The Sleepless Knights – novel excerpt – picking away at completion by September 2023

“How many times do I have to say this to all of you? Don’t bring women here. It’s too risky. What if she bolts before numbnuts over here does his memory eraser..magic water..thing?”

“But Ethan, she’s not just some regular mortal, man. This could be her. The -” 

“Don’t!” Ethan interrupted Rian. “We’re not putting that in anyone’s head until we know for sure and we talk to Corbin. Then there’s the whole other battle of convincing her we’re not psychotic.”  

“What we should be doing is taking her to a hospital.” Cayden sat on the bed next to a still unconscious and battered Maeve, holding her hand and admonishing himself for not getting to her sooner. The other Knights were gathered around listening to Ethan rant. 

“Absolutely not,” Quinn insisted. “We can’t chance being spotted at a hospital with some chick who just had the crap kicked out of her. We can take care of her. She’ll be fine,” he gave Cayden a reassuring pat on the back. 

“Yes, absolutely,” Ethan agreed. “We wait till she’s awake and well enough. Keep her on this bus. Wipe out her memory, and then get her the hell home. You three took a big risk going after her unmasked. I’m still waiting for your dumbass faces to pop up on the news, and someone’s bound to file a missing person’s report for her -” 

“Ethan, please,” Cayden shot up from the bed. “Re, come sit with her, bud.” Rian did as he was told with obvious worry on his face as he took the same hand Cayden was holding. 

“Come look at this stuff,” Cayden urged Ethan to follow him to the kitchenette table where Maeve’s journal and backpack were set out to dry. 

“Careful, a lot of the pages got soaked.” 

“Don’t worry, Swayze. I’m not going to mess up Baby’s diary.” 

“Just look at the book, please,” Cayden commanded impatiently, “Then we’ll talk.” 

Ethan gingerly turned the pages, feigning interest at first, but then his face softened as he studied more of the leather-bound book. He looked questioningly at the young bassist once he reached the last few pages. 

“She says she comes out of these trances, these out-of-body experiences as she calls them and doesn’t have a clue where the images she drew came from. But I know and you know what’s going on here, E. Whether she is or she isn’t the one, right now she’s our best hope. Unless you and Corbin want to keep entertaining the Mullis twins every time they bring their bimbos to the house.” 

“Yeah,” Kyler interrupted, “She’s got a great voice, so she’ll easily fit as as backup singer, and you should have seen what she did to that scumbag’s face. She took a hell of a beating but she still packs a punch. We can train her.” 

Moments of silence passed amongst the men before Ethan took a deep breath and massaged the wrinkled skin around his eyes. 

“This is going to be a lot of work, gentlemen. She’s not one of us. Granted she’s not supposed to be, but this girl is so far removed from anything our people have been told.”

“That’s right. Let’s not forget we’re still people, E,” Cayden firmly declared. 

“We’re gods, and she’s not, man,” Donovan interjected.  

“We’re demigods,” Cayden sternly insisted. “That means at the end of the day we are no better or worse than anyone else. We had a lot to learn and we learned it. So will she.”

The Knights looked at each other before turning their eyes back to their manager. Ethan raised his hands in surrender. 

“Alright, alright, I’ll see what Corbin has to say. But I’m telling you now, Romeo, if this backfires in any way it’s your ass not mine. Let me know when she wakes up.” 

Ethan exited the bus and marched up the gravel driveway to the stone mansion they called home before the tour bus life started. 

“Well, I guess we’re getting a visit from Corbin soon,” Quinn lobed a soda can into the trash. “Maybe we should clean up this place. It looks like a bunch of Gremlins took showers in here. Plus, why not spruce up the place for our new recruit, huh?” 

“You’re the one that lives like a pig,” Donovan reminded his life long friend. 

“I’m not the only one who lives here!” 

“You guys go ahead. I’m going to sit with Maeve. I don’t want her to wake up and no one is there.” 

“Yeah, yeah,” Quinn playfully punched Cayden’s shoulder. “We know you don’t want her waking up alone. Dude, at least wait until she’s conscious.” 

“Go jerk off, Quinn,” Cayden glared at his bandmate. 

“Nah, I’m good till bedtime.” 

“Man, you are a damn disgrace,” Kyler threw a stack of old magazines at Quinn. “Help me clean up this hell hole on wheels. You too Rian.”  

Donovan stopped Cayden before the oldest Knight reached the door to the back room, carrying cold compresses for Maeve’s bruised face. 

“Yo, I know you have a lot of faith in this girl, and maybe she is the one we need. But don’t get yourself in too deep. Remember what my old man used to say to us. Look for the best in everybody but always be ready for the worst.” 

“Maybe that’s not always the best motto to go by, Don.” 

“We wouldn’t be in business if it wasn’t true.” 

“Well, our business should be more about helping people protect themselves from the worst instead of us fighting their battles for them once the shit hits the fan.” 

“Man, the older you get the less fun you get.” 

“And the stronger you get, the dumber you get.” They teasingly punched each other. 

“Go take care of the girl, ya asshole.” 

“Think potential, my friend. Think potential.” Cayden smiled at the pessimistic drummer before disappearing into the bedroom.

“We’ll see, man. We’ll see.” 

* * *

“Corbin, we might be heading into some uncharted territory,” Ethan took a long sip of his cognac. “But I guess after all this time, it will be nice to see ya settle down finally.” 

“Well, old friend, as much as I wouldn’t mind opening a window to possible romance, that cannot be our main priority, of course.” 

Corbin took a long, contemplative exhale after inhaling from his cigar. Smoke billowed over him like a ghost. The two gentlemen lounged in front of the fireplace in Corbin’s study, staring hypnotically at the flames, both taking in the finest liquor and trying to process the information Ethan shared. 

“She’ll no doubt help the boys, especially Cayden. I worry about that boy every damn day. But what about the bigger picture? What if she fails, or worse, what if she becomes too powerful. Neither side will win.” 

“Perhaps, just perhaps, it is a risk worth taking. I’ve known you for decades now, Ethan. There is no doubt in your mind that they found her. I’m afraid we can’t escape the acquaintance now,” chuckled Corbin. 

“He found her in a mall, boss. Of all the places men have searched over the years – a friggin shopping mall in Jersey?” 

“We’re still part of this world like every other living being, my friend. Every breathing force on this planet knows there is no predictability. If there was we wouldn’t need the Caydens, The Matteos..or the Maeves.” 

“The boy is in love with her, you know?” 

“I’m sure all five of those boys are in love,” Corbin laughed. 

“No, I mean it. Cayden. He looks at her like he’s just seen his first real Delorean. He’s fighting against it, but I can tell he’s losing.” 

“Cayden Donnelly comes from a long, powerful line of sensible, disciplined, and resilient men. He doesn’t know how to make the wrong choices..usually.” 

Ethan and Corbin gave each other knowing looks before turning their eyes back to the fire for a short spell of silence. 

“Well, I think it’s time I meet this young woman, eh? I’ll have Simon make some hot figwort tea to bring with us. That should fix her up in no time.” Corbin extinguished his cigar. 

“Fair warning, those kids live like animals,” Ethan swigged the last of his drink. The two men rose from their leather clawfoot chairs. 

“We were young once, Ethan.” 

“Yeah right. Whatever happened to that whole idea of staying that way?” 

“Perhaps the opportunity has arrived, my dear friend.” 

* * *

The last time Maeve had a serious nightmare was after her brother, Sebastian, dragged her with him and his friends to see Aliens after school. They told their parents they saw Flight of the Navigator. For months, she dreamt of the queen alien landing in her backyard after Sigourney Weaver let the bitch fall from the space station. She’d wake up screaming when the dog got cocooned and morphed into one of those face hugger aliens that laid eggs in peoples’ stomachs. But for Maeve, what was once a traumatic event became a fond memory with her big brother.  

Most of Maeve’s more current dreams were forgotten or downright random and bizarre. After being attacked and left unconscious for almost 48 hours, she dreamt of yellowish light and concrete walls closing in around her. She dreamt of the perp’s hands that felt as if they were covered in Crisco, and she smelled his cigarettes and sweat. Again, she felt the pain of being tackled, slapped, and thrown against cinderblock.  

She ran hard and fast in the dreams but couldn’t get anywhere. At times she thought she might be dead, and if she was, how did she not get into heaven? She had to be in hell. 

Suddenly there was a blade coming toward her face, one she couldn’t see until it was too late. 

“Noooo!!” She shot up from a nest of pillows in a cold sweat, the sudden movement a painful reminder of how beaten up she was. 

“Maeve! Oh, thank God.” Cayden had dozed off in the office chair he pushed next to the bed. Groggily, he moved to sit next to her. 

“What…how?” She swung her fists in a disoriented flurry of fight or flight. Her eyes wouldn’t focus. 

“Maeve, it’s okay,” he grabbed her wrists. “You’re safe now. It’s over.” 

She caught her breath then recognized the face in front of her. Relief began to wash over her once she realized she wasn’t lying in a hospital bed or lying naked and beaten on the floor of a parking garage. Still, her head continued to spin. 

“What…what the hell happened? How did I get..here?” 

“You were attacked at the mall,” Cayden gently coaxed her to lie back down.”But you’re going to be fine. You’re on the bus. All the guys are here. Ezekiel’s here. Just relax,” he finished in a whisper as he softly stroked her bruised cheek with his fingers.

Her blurred vision dissipated and she took a deep breath though a fractured rib made that breath feel like a line drive to the torso. Cayden immediately draped a big ice pack wrapped in a towel over the side that pained her. He slightly lifted the bottom of her shirt so the coolness could touch her skin.

“Stop,” she slapped his hand away. 

“I’m sorry,” he flinched. “I didn’t mean to scare you. I promise you’re safe now, okay? Remember, I’d never lie to you.” 

She lie in silence for a bit, her gaze wandering from Cayden’s concerned eyes to her surroundings. Posters of cartoon characters, WWF wrestlers, swimsuit models, and rock stars lined the walls of the small room. 

“Where are we?” 

“It’s kind of a long story. Right now I just need you to rest. I’ll explain everything later.” 

Maeve allowed him to take her hand after he placed a cool wet cloth on her throbbing head. He noticed her squinting, so he reached over to pull the curtain over the window – her hand still held securely in his. 

“I feel like shit.” 

“In my opinion, you definitely don’t look how you feel.”

“What happened to the creeps who attacked me?” 

“They’re gone. You don’t have to worry about them anymore.” He brushed a lock of hair away from her face. 

“Did he..? Did they…?” She couldn’t get the words out through her welling tears. 

“No, we got there in time. They never had a chance,” he took both her hands in his. “And let’s just say it will be physically impossible for any of them to try it again.” 

It took a moment for her to process that he, and at least a couple of his bandmates, had something to do with her rescue. 

“But how did you..what were you doing at the mall? Especially in that garage? How was that possible at that exact moment? I don’t get it.” 

“Seems to be a hell of a coincidence, huh?” Cayden gave her a soft smile. 

“Have you actually been stalking me?” Even she wasn’t sure if she was joking or not. 

“No, of course not. Like I said, I’ll explain everything when you’re feeling better, okay?” 

“Well, why not begin with the basics now, son?” Corbin stood in the doorway holding a cast iron tea pot. 

“Sir,” he jumped up from his position next to Maeve, “I didn’t think you’d be coming so soon.” 

“Now what kind of host would I be if I stayed in my library all day and not introduced myself to this young lady here? Cayden, please grab me a mug from the kitchen.” 

“Sure, no problem,” he looked down to give Maeve a reassuring smile before leaving the room. 

She took in the striking presence before her – a tall, classically dashing man who looked to be somewhere in his forties wearing an all black suit. A broad chest and shoulders and wisps of salt and pepper hair completed his commanding but debonair look. 

“Well, Maeve. It’s a pleasure to meet you. Welcome to our home, dear.” 

“Home? Where?” She held the cold cloth so it wouldn’t fall over her eyes. “Who are you, and what do you want? In fact, can somebody please tell me what the hell is going on. How did you know where I was?” Cayden held the mug as Corbin poured the near-boiling cup of tea. Corbin held up his hand to pause the Knight before he could answer her. 

“Oh, forgive us, Ms. Wicklow, please. My name is Corbin Byrne, and I am..shall we say one of the band’s managers. And right now we are outside of our manor – Fian’s Hallow.” 

Reluctantly, Maeve sat up slightly and took the hot mug from Corbin’s noticeably scarred hands. The tea was unusual but fragrant, and she needed something warm and soothing. Every bit of her insides – bones, flesh, and all – seemed to ache.

“Okay, where exactly is Fian’s Hallow?” She took a slow sip and immediately felt a little more alive. 

“Allow me to clarify. This is one of several Fian’s Hallows. This one happens to be in the beautiful Green Mountains.” 

“Wait, do you mean Vermont? I’m in Vermont right now? How long have I been out? What day is it today? Okay, I’m out of questions for now. This is insane.” Panic rose in her voice and she took a longer sip of tea, welcoming the waves of pain relief. 

“It’s Sunday morning, Maeve.” Cayden sat on the foot of the bed and gently massaged her leg over the blankets. “You’ve been out since Friday night.” Corbin watched the physical sign of affection and keyed in on the young man’s voice. Ethan was right, he thought. The boy has fallen. 

“Why did you bring me here?” 

“Cayden and the boys wanted to make sure you received the best care possible after such a traumatic event.”

“By taking me this far away from home?” She looked over at Cayden. “And you haven’t answered my question. How did you even know where I was and what was happening?” 

Cayden anxiously looked over at Corbin who then motioned for Cayden to explain. 

“I’m not..I mean, we’re not who you think we are.” Cayden rubbed the back of his neck. 

“What are you talking about?” 

With a bemused look on his face, Corbin waited for Cayden’s next move. 

“Well, long story short..if that’s even possible,” he glanced at Corbin who gave him an approving nod. “We’re not just a band. We’re a Celtic brigade of demi-gods known as the Fianna, at least we’re descendants of warriors known as the Fianna. We all have..certain abilities and we use them to help people in danger or distress.” He decided to pause there to read her expression. She looked just as confused as when she first woke up. The rest of The Sleepless Knights made their way into the room. 

“That’s..the craziest thing I’ve ever heard. What are you trying to pull here, guys?” 

“It’s true, Maevey,” Quinn added. “Think about it. What reason would we have to make something like that up? We certainly don’t need the publicity.” 

“I get it, kiddo,” Kyler interjected. “ I hardly believe it myself sometimes. But -” he leapt onto the ceiling and hung over her upside down with a big grin on his face. “You can’t deny what you see with your own eyes, right?” Stunned, Maeve covered her face with a blanket and sunk into the sea of pillows. 

“Kyler, for the love of all the gods, get down! You’re frightening the poor girl!” Corbin scolded. 

“Oh yeah, sorry. Too much too soon I guess?” 

“No shit Sherlock,” answered Cayden. 

“Okay, I am out of here. There is something very wrong with all of you and you need to be checked.” As painful as it was, Maeve crawled out of the bed as fast as she could and headed straight for the bedroom door. Rian, who was on the opposite side of the room, appeared in front of her in a flash. 

“Not so fast, enchanted one. You are in no condition to be out of bed right now.” Rian’s lightening move made her stumble backward into Cayden. Once she felt his hands on her back, she turned and pushed him away. 

“Don’t come near me! All of you. Get out of my way, Rian!” The youngest Knight looked to Corbin for approval which he received. 

As fast as she could, she threw her journal and her other items back into her purple Jansport. Under Corbin’s command, none of the Knights made an attempt to stop her. 

“…’Courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.’ Nelson Mandela.” Gus remained in his seat, facing the windshield. 

“Go ahead and quote Ghandi next, Gus. I’m still out of here.” 

Maeve zipped her bag closed and limped her way towards the door. Gus rose from the driver’s seat but as he turned to block her path, Gus morphed into Corbin right before her eyes. She froze, completely breathless, not convinced she made it out of that garage alive. 

“My dear, there’s no where to go on foot. Please, you’re a rational young woman. Allow us to explain further.” 

Corbin barely finished his plea when she hit the floor. 

The Sleepless Knights – novel excerpt…I lost count.

So this is an important part of the story because we get to know more about this mysterious band, what their powers are, and what their mission is. This is the first time I’ve ever attempted to write any form of fantasy with a very “superhero” vibe. As a reminder, this will be an urban fantasy novel set in the late 80’s early 90’s. Let’s say Stranger Things meets Marvel I guess. But there are no gruesome creatures. The monsters are very real, even though they’re demigods. Hope you enjoy and as always, I’d love to see some productive and useful feedback. 🙂

When you run. 

When you fly.

Every time you hide. 

Every time you cry.

If you forget to run from the tide. 

I’ll part the oceans 

to be at your side…

The venue several miles outside of Newport, Rhode Island was a large but old playhouse turned concert venue, so it had great acoustics and lots of secret entrances and exits, perfect for when The Sleepless Knights needed to split undetected by fans or staff. They weren’t supposed to go on until 9:00, but they typically tried to get rehearsal and sound check done as early as possible. They never knew what was going to happen right before a show. 

Ardently, Kyler belted out the final chorus of their new song. Even though Cayden watched his brother perform countless times before, he couldn’t help but stand there and be in awe of him – his confidence, command, and passion for performing was a sight to see. Kyler Donnelly never seemed to have to work hard for that power. Cayden, on the other hand, had a hard time getting used to an audience whose eyes he felt boring into his skull. He knew he wasn’t the only one they looked at, but in his head, he envisioned hoards of girls pointing at him and laughing. 

Do I have a stupid look on my face? Is my fly open? Am I screwing up a note? 

He was his own worst enemy.  

“Well gentlemen, I think we got another winner here. Quinn, brilliant work as usual, compadre.” Kyler took a much needed gulp from his water bottle. 

“Thank you, brother. That is sure to spread some beautiful love and energy this evening, huh?” 

“Let’s not get too carried away, guys. There’s only so much we can do at these smaller shows anyway.” Donovan wiped his sweaty neck and face with a towel. The Knights often forgot how much physical work playing the drums entailed, and Donovan’s remarkable strength rarely kept him from sweating like a farm animal under spotlights. 

“Don’t worry, Don. We’re never going to be out of jobs.” Rian worked on changing some settings on his keyboards. 

“We better hope not. Or what the hell are we going to do with our lives?” Donovan threw his sweaty towel at Rian which the key master dodged in disgust. 

“Maybe fix up an old, decrepit house in the middle of nowhere and be normal for a change?” Cayden carefully put his bass back in its case.  

“Dude, keep dreaming. We were born to be nomadic road warriors, big brother.” Kyler helped Quinn roll up some wires that weren’t needed. 

“He just wants to play house and make a hundred babies with a certain Jersey mall queen who shall remain nameless,” Quinn teased. 

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.” Suddenly feeling fatigued, Cayden hopped down off the stage and dropped himself on one of the audience seats. 

“Says the guy who was up at the ass crack of dawn this morning writing a letter to the chick.” Kyler added. 

“Do you keep track of how many times I take a dump too, little brother?” 

“Hey, all I’m saying is, we’re going to have some time off..theoretically. You, at the very least, should be going back to get her.” 

“Man, it’s not that easy. She’s just finishing high school for God sakes. And if I just show up out of the blue and tell her what the plan is, she’s going to freak. Besides, I can’t go anywhere by myself. Who else is going to see where we need to be?”  

“Ohhh, so you are admitting there is a plan, aren’t ya?” Quinn finished off his fifth Coca Cola for the day. Sometimes his bandmates thought the overload of corn syrup and caffeine dissolved his brain cells. 

“Listen,” Cayden shot up from his seat, “When I feel like the time is right to…” 

An all too familiar wave of dizziness and a shot of unbearable pain made him stumble. Cayden pressed the heels of his hands against his forehead, trying to gain some control over the worsening spasm. 

“Cayd, what’s up?” Quinn and Kyler rushed to him and grabbed his arms to keep him from dropping like a big dictionary falling onto a hard table.  

“Ahhh!” was all he could get out. The pain was intense, but not as stabbing as it could be when he battled to make out what he was supposed to see. 

“What are you seeing, big brother? Talk to us.” Kyler and Quinn were on the floor next to him. Kyler let his older brother’s head rest on his lap as his legs involuntarily flailed. 

“I don’t know….It’s a big old house..errrr!” The shortness of breath kicked in. 

“And? Who’s there?” 

“There’s a..there’s a woman..with her daughter. They’re closing…errr, their closing up. It’s one of the mansions!” 

The pain reached an intensity where he had no choice but to yell. Otherwise the words wouldn’t be able to escape his mouth. 

“Address, man. Address. Find us an address,” Quinn pleaded. 

“Robbery..ahhhhh! The girl is screaming. They got her! They’re tearing at her…” 

“Cayden! Focus on a location, come on big brother! You can do it.” 

“Rian, Don, tell Gus to start the engine,” commanded Quinn. 

“Wait, can we even go on assignment right now? What if we miss the show and raise red flags?” Rian panicked. 

“Man, the hell with it! Guys, scoop him up and let’s go!” Donovan ran towards one of the fire exits, pulling Rian with him. Kyler and Quinn picked up their ailing bassist and followed shortly after. 

“Dude, what if Rian is right? If we miss the show, we got no alibi. We never went on a mission this close to a show,” worried Kyler. 

“Well, we either get this done and get back in time or face Ethan and Corbin’s wrath.” 

Cayden couldn’t make out the rest of their conversation as they hauled him back to the bus. He kept his eyes closed and searched through the barrage of images that crossed his vision from all directions. Sometimes it felt like a Rolodex spinning forward then backward in his mind. Sometimes it looked like the snow on a television screen when the signal cuts out, except the balls of white light were bigger and moved slower. Either way, he knew his one job was to fight for at least a moment of clarity. He had to slow down the menagerie enough to be able to give his bandmates and Gus the information needed –  before it was too late. As he said to Ethan the night before, some days were better than others. 

Despite being fully immersed in the throbbing pain, the weakness, and the cyclone of visions, he could sense his body was back on one of the bus couches. After what felt like an eternity, he was able to see where they had to go. Maybe it didn’t take an eternity for him to start coming back to life, but it took longer than it needed to – and every second too late might as well be an hour. 

“Marble House,” He uttered breathlessly. “596 Bellevue Ave. And we got to hurry.”  

“Gus!” yelled Quinn. 

“Courage isn’t having the strength to go on – it’s going on when you don’t have strength. Napoleon Bonaparte.” Gus swiftly pulled out of the venue’s back parking lot before any of the employees had a chance to stop The Knights and question where they were going in such a hurry.  

“Alright boys, let’s get ready to kick some ass,” encouraged Donovan. Not sharing in his enthusiasm, Cayden knew he would need every second of driving time to step into who he needed to be next…

“Alright so what’s the game plan? Cayden said there’s at least four of them.” Donovan finished suiting up. 

“Oh no, do NOT make me the watch again, guys. It’s so boring, and a waste of my skills if you ask me.” 

“You’re the youngest. You get the shit job. We all went through it, Rian.” Quinn tightened his gloves then wolfed down the rest of his microwaved Quarter Pounder. 

“Oh man, come on. Let Cayden take a break and be the watch. I got this.” 

“When you can take out a dude that looks like Macho Man Randy Savage without breaking a sweat like Cayden can, then we’ll talk,” Kyler came to his brother’s defense. 

Quinn quickly settled in to his leadership roll once he swallowed what was left of his second lunch. “I say we go in through the back. Kyler you take the guys on the top floor…” 

“No kidding.” 

“Don, you go right for the guy whose got the girl, and I will handle whoever is left and take care of the mother.” 

Meanwhile, Cayden was in the back bedroom suiting up as quickly as he could even though he hadn’t gained all of his balance and strength back. Sometimes it irked him whenever the guys assumed he wouldn’t be able to do a job. But he knew they worried about him, about the day he may never come out of one of his throttling visions, or the day he decided to walk away for good. He pulled his mask out of his gym bag and darted towards the front of the bus before they could leave without him. 

“Cayd, you alright man? This doesn’t seem like too heavy of a job. You sure you don’t want to sit this one out?” 

“Quinn, when do I ever sit out of a battle?”

“Good point, you are a glutton for punishment, my friend.” 

“The time is now, gentleman,” Gus bellowed from the driver’s seat as he brought the bus to a stop in a hidden parking lot next to an abandoned food market.  

“Alright Knights, let’s do our job quickly, smoothly, and get out of here. If we start that show too late and raise suspicion, the masters are going to eat our balls for breakfast. Ready?” Quinn placed his hand on Kyler’s upper right arm, and Kyler’s hand clasped Quinn’s left upper arm. 

“For honor, for peace, for rightness over evil,” they said in unison. 

As he did at the start of every mission, Quinn rapidly took turns giving each of his bandmates the salute before they pulled their masks down over their faces. They raced for the woods that divided the abandoned lot and their destination – The Marble House. Cayden found every bit of power he had left to keep up with the group. Of course, no one could outrun his brother, and Rian could break the sound barrier.   

Nobody was around, but the Knights couldn’t risk being spotted. The low light of dusk started to drape over them as they ran like hell. Gus had a way of finding secluded entry points for any of their missions. It didn’t take long for the old mansion to come into view, but they stayed hidden and scoped out the surroundings a bit. The boys had a clear view of the back of the house. Through two open Venetian doors, they could hear men yelling and the women crying. Two guys were loading paintings, expensive pieces of gilded, antique furniture, and handfuls of polished silver flatware into a dilapidated green van. They waited for the two guys to go back into the house. Cayden nodded at Quinn. Donovan nodded at Kyler. Then they stealthily made their way towards the stone walls of the 19th century mansion. Rian stayed back to keep any of the thugs from escaping, but more importantly, he had to watch for the cops.

They resolved to live in a world where they would always be placed between benevolence and wickedness. 

Donavan and Kyler made their way into a concealed doorway at the side of the building, as Quinn and Cayden sneaked their way into the back doors before any of the thugs saw them. Like a rocket, Kyler leapt over the banister to the second floor. Cayden hated when his younger brother assumed he could rely solely on his superior jumping and wall climbing skills. He leapt right in to every mission, literally and figuratively, without caution and practically vomiting invincibility. The Knights live forever, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be killed. 

Donovan stealthily followed the agonizing sound of the young girl’s screams, needing only one punch to open a locked sitting room door.

As soon as Donovan entered the room he found a heavy set man in dirty, tight jeans and a grease-stained T-shirt trying to restrain a screaming young girl on a claw foot sofa. She fought like hell, and with every defensive scratch she landed on him, he would strike her back in between tearing at her satin blouse. Since he was so busy with his fight to overpower his victim, he didn’t hear the sound of the wooden door frame splinter upon Donovan’s entrance. 

“Hey! I don’t think the lady is interested in fat and gristle, you douchebag!”

“Who the fuck are you?” 

“One of the Masters of the Universe as far as you’re concerned, shitbag.” 

The man quickly pulled a pistol out of his back pocket and fired at the swift Knight who easily lunged behind a set of chairs to dodge the shots. Despite being terrified by the gun fire, the young woman managed to escape the man and hastily crawl underneath a chaise lounge to hide. 

“Ha, I got you, you short little shit.” 

Donovan had every intention of taking the guy down anyway, but whenever someone made a remark about his short stature or if someone implied he was weak, it stoked an all-consuming fire in him. From where he was crouched, he raised his hand towards the brass fire place shovel several feet away from him. The shovel lifted from its holder and started spinning rapidly like a baton. With a quick wave of his hand, Donovan flung the airborne, spinning shovel towards the perp trying to reload. The strongest Knight heard the brass clank against the metal of the gun as it knocked the weapon out of its owner’s filthy hand. 

“What the hell?” 

Before the assailant could process what happened, Donovan did the same thing with the fireplace poker. Only this time, he aimed for the perp’s head. Stunned by the cast iron poker hitting him across the face, leaving a long gash on his cheek and breaking his nose, the man fell back onto the marble floor. Without saying a word, Donovan scooped up the man’s gun and broke it in half in front of his bleeding face, as if he was breaking a stick to throw into a fire.  

“So what are you supposed to be, Batman or something?” The man tried to hide his confusion and twinge of fear. “Take that mask off! Face me like a man!” 

“You really want my face to be the last thing you see before I end your career?” answered Donovan sinisterly, still standing over the weakened criminal. 

“Fuck you, pal!” 

“No thanks, I already had your girl last night.” 

Jolted by a bolt of adrenaline, the man sat up and lunged into Donovan, both men fell back onto the floor. Donovan effortlessly hurled the man into an antique mirror on the wall, shattering it. A savage brawl ensued. Donovan used every ounce of his fighting skills to inflict as much pain and humiliation as he could on the thief and attempted rapist. The girl under the chaise lounge continued to cry in terror, unable to think rationally enough to decide who was the good guy and who was the bad guy. 

With one hand, Donovan lifted the battered perp by his shirt and hung him on a nearby coathook. The man’s harrowing yell of pain made it clear to Donovan that the hook had pierced his flesh, something the strong Knight didn’t intend to do. Quickly, Donovan hauled the man’s debilitated body back onto the floor and tied up his wrists and ankles with guitar strings. 

“Damn bro, what did you do to this dude?” Quinn came running up behind Donovan and stared down at the groaning criminal begging for mercy. 

“He was a tough one, man. I did what I had to do.” 

Quinn knelt down and poured the erasure water on the perp but paused once he spotted the stream of blood oozing from the man’s back. 

“Yo, Cayden is going to shit a brick if he sees that! Cover up that wound before you bring him down.”

“Relax, man. He’ll live.” 

“Just do it, and meet us downstairs,” Quinn threw him a stern look before leaving the room to find Kyler. Donovan made the perp sit up so he could wrap a sheer curtain tightly around the man. The barely conscious criminal let out a yell as the knot tightened. 

“You’ll live.” 

* * * 

Kyler crept like a spider into the upstairs study, making sure each of his movements against the ceiling were silent. Two men dressed in black hoodies and hunting pants rummaged through drawers and packed expensive pieces of decor and rare books in boxes. 

“Come on, hurry up, I don’t know what’s going on out there but we need to get the hell out of here.” 

“Well, don’t break any of that shit, Denny’s gonna be pissed.” 

“Don’t worry about that, dumbasses. Denny’s already pissing his pants in another room!” Kyler hung from one hand and foot and flipped off the two robbers. 

“What the hell!” The taller man pulled out his gun and instantly fired multiple rounds at Kyler, but the second youngest Knight was quick to dodge every shot. The shorter man picked up his crowbar and ran towards the dangling Kyler who continued to tease and torment the men. But before the man could get too close to him, Kyler grabbed several commemorative plates off the wall and flung them in in there direction. The force of the impromptu weapons flung the gun and the crowbar clear across the room, hitting a marble statue and shattering it to jagged pieces. 

“Ahh shit, look what you made me do.” 

Kyler took advantage of the men’s locked-in-place shock, pushing himself off of the ceiling and charging at the criminals. It took mere moments for the nimble lead singer to completely subdue them and tie them up with his brother’s extra guitar strings. 

“Ooohhh, tough break guys. Looks like you’re getting screwed out of your pay day. Might want to choose a new profession. Didn’t work out for the dudes in A Fish Called Wanda either.” 

“Please, please, don’t kill us. We’ll get outta here and we’ll never do this again if you untie us, I swear,” the shorter perp pleaded. 

“Get one thing straight now, buddy,” Kyler knelt down to their level on the floor. “We don’t kill anyone. And I already  know your dumb burglar days are going to be way behind you after tonight.” Quinn rushed in with his lavastone-infused erasure water ready to go.

“Nice work, man. Why didn’t you wait for me? Maybe I wanted a piece of them too, dipshit.” Quinn nudged Kyler in the shoulder. 

“You snooze you lose, man. You getting old on us or something?” 

“Eh, bite me.” 

Quinn poured the water on the men, instantly knocking them out. 

“They’ll be in jail, but at least they’ll wake up feeling like a million bucks.”

“Yeah, right. Don’t know if we can say the same about Don’s guy though.” Quinn slapped the top back on the bottle holding the water that was vital to the Knights’ successful missions.  

“Ah no, not again. How bad is it this time?”

“Dude might not be able to move an arm or a leg, but he’ll live.” 

Kyler shook his head. “Come on, let’s get these guys downstairs and go find Cayden.” 

* * *

Cayden entered the museum store and hid behind revolving racks of postcards and key chains. His eyes were immediately drawn to the battered woman tied up on the floor. Her exhausted cries for her daughter slightly rose above the clicking sound of the safe as the lead thug tried to crack it open. As soon as the older woman spotted the blue mask covering Cayden’s face, she stopped crying, but Cayden quickly shook his head “no” and signaled for her to stay silent. 

“Dammit woman, stop bullshiting me! You know the combination to this thing. Now talk!” The man stood over the woman and pointed a gun to her head. 

“I don’t. I swear. Only the manager knows and he’s not here,” the woman sobbed. 

“If I find out you’re lying to me,” the man went back to work on the lock, “your kid is dead, you hear me!” 

“Where’s my daughter? Please. Please just let us go. I promise you we’ll go far away, never return. We won’t go to the police. Just let us go.” 

“Forget it, lady.” 

“Please! Please! I’m begging you. There must be some mercy, some goodness left in you.” 

“Shut up woman!” The thug marched back to where the woman was lying and kicked her in the stomach. An agonizing cry escaped the woman’s lips though she tried to stifle it, hoping it would stop him from striking again. Before the perp could think about returning to his task, a sharp pain hit the back of his leg. 

“Son of a bitch!” The man looked behind him to find an ornate, souvenir letter opener lodged into his hamstring. 

“You think you’re tough shit beating on a woman, huh?” Cayden emerged from his hiding spot.    

“Who the hell are you? Don’t make me kill you!” The perp pointed his gun at Cayden but was unsteady on his feet, leaning backwards, trying to pull the letter opener from his flesh. But each attempt resulted in wail of agony. Cayden stood several feet in front of the hobbling man and didn’t budge. 

“I want you and your goons to leave the two ladies alone and bring back what you took. Then maybe we won’t embarrass you too much. But I can’t say your punishment will be less severe.” Cayden flung another letter opener into the man’s other leg. 

“That’s it,” the perp declared after a yelling a few choice words and falling back onto the floor. “Say goodnight, asshole!” From the ground, the man fired one shot at Cayden’s head which launched the Knight into a table stacked with books, splitting the redwood in half, his body pummeled and buried with hardcovers. 

“Ha ha! Not too sharp are ya? Guess your comic book hero days are over, huh?” 

The man started using a glass display counter to slowly get back on his feet. His fall backwards caused the stainless steel office supply to push deeper into his leg. After sweating, bleeding, and moaning profusely, he ended up in a standing position. But once he heard the sound of books shuffling and tapping the floor, he nearly collapsed once again.  

The eldest Knight approached the man before lifting the mask off his mouth to spit the bullet at the criminal’s face. 

“You put a hole in my favorite mask, dipshit.”  

“Look, alright, I don’t know who you are, but let’s make a deal here,” the perp pleaded after moments of stunned silence. 

“There are no deals. Leave the woman alone and come with me. Unless you want one in the balls next.” Cayden pulled a shuriken out of his leather utility belt, the shiny metal reflected the glow coming from the track lighting above him. 

“Who the hell are you?” 

“I don’t know, man. Should we tell him?” Cayden turned knowing Quinn would be there to have his back, ready with the powerful mind erasure that ensured their safety and their freedom to move on to the next mission, whatever that may be. 

“Yeah, okay. Like that would ever happen. This piece of shit isn’t even worthy of learning who pulled off the Max Headroom incident.” 

“What are you going to do to me?” The perp tried to get his legs to carry him away from the two Knights. 

“Put you where you belong, asshole.” With that, Quinn splashed the lava stone water into the perp’s face, sending him directly to the floor. 

“Let’s get these idiots pilled up, take care of the women, and get the hell out of here. The cops will be here any minute and we’ll never get back to the arena in time.” 

“Already ahead of you, brother. I got this shit stain, you get the woman. Are you okay?”  

“Yes, Quinn, you don’t have to ask after every vision and every battle.” Cayden did his best to mask his mild frustration with levity. 

“Okie doke, man. See you downstairs.” Quinn pulled the letter opener out of the criminal’s hamstring and dragged him out of the store by his feet. 

Cayden knelt down next to the woman still in an awful state of panic. She wouldn’t have trusted a puppy coming near her. 

“Hey, hey, it’s okay ma’am,” he whispered. “It’s over. They’re not going to hurt you anymore.” He reached out his hand to her to which she didn’t take right away. 

“Where’s my daughter? I just want my baby,” she could barely get the words out, holding her side like she had a cracked rib. 

“She’s fine. Come on, I’ll take you to her.” He reached his hands to her again and she accepted, moaning in pain as he lifted her. Cayden put his arm around her waist to help the weakened woman in her twilight years stay on her feet. They shuffled slowly out of the store and towards the staircase. With each step, the woman felt more comfortable leaning on Cayden as they made their way to the front of the mansion.   

“Well, I suppose if you were going to kill me you would have done it by now. So who are you, sir?” 

“No one of importance. Just a good samaritan.” 

“Wearing those clothes and that mask? Something tells me it’s not your first time coming to someone’s rescue. Wait a minute,” she paused her slow decent down the stairs with Cayden by her side, “You’re one of the men who’ve been on the news for a while now. You were spotted on camera not too long ago, stopping a pawn shop robbery I believe.” 

“That was us.” 

“So you save people in danger. Why hide behind masks? Why not work with law enforcement?” 

“We’d never truly be comrades or equals. We’re always going to be seen more as a threat,” he answered matter-of-factly. 

“Well, we owe you our -” The woman froze and gasped at the bottom of the steps when she saw her daughter sunken into an antique lounge chair, hugging her knees and watching Kyler and Quinn tie the unconscious perps to the center of a marble fountain. Donovan carried in some priceless items from the thieves’ van, and Rian was hard at work removing any trace evidence of his brothers’ presence in the mansion.

“Julie,” cried the relieved mother. 

“Mom!” The young girl ran as fast as she could to her mother’s battered but open arms.   

“Oh, thank God. Did they hurt you? Are you okay? Are you…”

“Yes, Mom, I’m fine. He didn’t get the chance to hurt me..that badly. Thanks to these guys.” 

The women held each other tightly as the Knights finished up their work. 

“Okay ladies. Now I need you to come with me to the office for a moment, please.” Quinn gestured for the mother and daughter to follow him. 

“Wait, please tell us. What can we do to repay you?” 

“There is nothing you’ll ever have to do, ma’am. All we ask is that you never doubt the good that still lives in this world.” Cayden reassured them as he and Kyler moved to stand behind them. 

“No, really. We need to know. Who are…” Before the daughter could utter another word, Quinn rapidly doused both their faces with the eraser water. They fell unconsciously into Cayden and Kyler’s arms. 

“Why do I always get the heavier one, man?” Kyler whined as he scooped the mother off her feet. 

“Quit complaining and let’s go.” Cayden effortlessly picked up the petite daughter. 

“They were a couple of chatty ones, huh?” Quinn added, “Too bad, she’s cute in a Mary Stuart Masterson, Some Kind of Wonderful kind of way.” 

“You passed out in the middle of that movie.” Kyler followed Cayden towards the office. 

“I remember the cute chicks. That’s all that matters.” 

“Guys, start heading back to the bus. We’ll be right behind you,” Cayden yelled back to his comrades before disappearing into the office with Kyler and the two unconscious women. 

“Nah, let’s just lay them on the floor, little bro,” he stopped Kyler before he could place the mother in a shiny leather lounge chair. “They could fall out of these chairs before they realize where they are.”

“That’s my big bro, always thinking ahead.” 

“I just hope they weren’t hurting for too long from these guys. I feel like we could have gotten here a lot sooner.” 

“Come on, man. Don’t start the shoulda, woulda, coulda crap. You gave us a clear vision. We got here. We saved the victims from further injury or worse, and we got the stolen goods. Mission accomplished, and always thanks to you.” Kyler patted his brother on the back. He wished Cayden wouldn’t put himself through the anguish he often did, feeling like he could have had an earlier and clearer vision, wishing he had the missing piece to the puzzle that would make him unstoppable – the greatest his army had ever known in their centuries old existence.      

“Maybe one of these days it won’t be just me.” 

“Maybe, if you get your head out of your ass, get the girl, and don’t screw up.” 

“Thanks for the vote of confidence, Ky.” 

“That’s what brothers are for, Robin. Come on, let’s book before we get busted.” 

“Dude, I’m older. I’m taller. I’m Batman. Get over it.” Cayden mischievously pushed his little brother out of the office. 

The Knights did a quick scan of the property before sprinting out one of the inconspicuous side doors to The Marble House. As they powered through the dense,    pitch black woods, they heard police sirens getting louder. Quick flashes of red and blue lights hit the trees until they were far enough away from the scene. As soon as Gus spotted one of the boys, he started the engine but kept the lights off. The Knights jumped in one by one and informed Gus of their success. He hastily navigated the bus back to the quiet county route he took to get to their elusive parking spot. They had less than a half an hour to change, get back to the venue, and start the show before the staff and the fans grew restless. 

Cayden threw out the mask that was punctured with the bullet. The whole group was busy getting back into rock star mode, so there wasn’t much time for reflection. But Cayden couldn’t help thinking about Maeve – how much he wanted her there, and how much they all stood to lose. 

 

Novel snippet #3 – The Sleepless Knights. *the Muse has been on fire lately. :)

“Alright, where are we heading first, kids?” Kyler asked once each of us threw out our garbage. 

“I say we let the lady choose,” Quinn threw his arm over my shoulders. 

“Oh no, it’s totally up to you guys.” 

“But we want this to be your night, Maeve,” Cayden affirmed. “What did you usually do first when you would come here as a kid? If we leave the night up to Quinn we’ll end up in the middle of the Atlantic.”   

“Well, after we chowed down on sausage sandwiches, we’d play some games. My grandmother had this knack for winning the spinning wheel games.” 

“Oh, you’ve seen nothing yet, sister,” proclaimed Rian which earned him a slap upside the head from Kyler.  

The six of us walked the boardwalk for a bit until we spotted lines of games that seemed to be calling to us. Quinn, Donovan, and Kyler made their way to the strong man game while Cayden and I followed Rian to a Frog Bog stand. We watched him pay the operator for two buckets of frogs. 

“That giant Pac Man is as good as mine.” 

“Re, just take it easy okay. Don’t go nuts,” Cayden threw him a slightly stern look. 

“Yeah yeah, KD, don’t worry about me,” winked Rian. He loaded his metal launch pad with his first frog. I patted him on the shoulder and wished him luck before Cayden and I found an empty spot on the opposite side of Rian. I couldn’t help but notice a big teddy bear wearing a Yankees jersey hanging amongst the menagerie of stuffed prizes. Instantly I thought about how much my brother would have loved it, especially when he was younger. After a few moments of staring dazedly at the bear, I snapped myself out of it.  

“Have you ever played?” I asked Cayden, handing him a rubber mallet. 

“No, I can’t say I have. Us New Englanders are deprived.” 

“Well then, let me show you how it’s done.” 

Before I could get my money out of my jeans pocket to pay the man for my bucket of floppy rubber frogs, Cayden insisted he’d pay and we’d split the bucket of ten. 

“Always fold the frog with his head facing you, and always go for the lilypad in the middle that’s not moving. That way if it bounces off the middle it has a chance of landing in one that’s spinning.” 

“You make it sound like a science,” he teased but smiled sweetly. 

“Oh, I have done extensive research and experimentation. I come from a family of boardwalk game Mr. Wizards after all.” Unfortunately, I was all talk because out of the five fervent shots I took, allowing the rhythmic sound of mallets hitting metal around me to fuel the fire, I only got one on a lilypad. 

“Okay, so I’m a little rusty.” I stepped aside so he could take his turn. 

“Well, why don’t you go ahead and take the next five. I’m going to save my energy for the game where you have to throw baseballs at glass bottles.” 

“Are you sure?”  

“I’m positive. I much rather see you enjoying yourself.” He put his mallet down and gestured for me to continue. 

I set another frog onto the launch pad, aimed, then tried to judge how much force I had to use. Hard rubber hit metal and off it went directly into the middle pad. I thought I saw Cayden wave his hand right when I hit the launch pad but I wasn’t totally sure. 

“I did it!” 

“Nice! Keep going.” 

I took my time with each shot. Every single one landed on top of the other in the center lilypad. I was in awe, mostly by my sudden surge of accuracy, but I was also puzzled. Each time I launched a frog, I caught Cayden from the corner of my eye, waving his two right fingers forward as if guiding each frog into its spot. 

“What are you doing? Willing the frogs to their home,” I laughed. 

“Something like that,” he rubbed the back of his neck. Something I already noticed he did a lot when he was nervous. 

“Annnnd, it looks like we have a big winner here. Alright miss, what will it be. You can choose any of these guys that are hanging up.” The game operator pointed to the line of humongous stuffed animals swaying in the breeze from the overhang. 

“Oh, wow! In all my years of playing this I never won the jumbo prize. That’s okay, I have no where to put any of these monsters anyway.” 

“Well, the medium ones aren’t so bad. Come on, you can’t walk away with nothing.” Cayden playfully nudged me with his elbow. 

“So which one would you pick for me?” 

He scanned the row of animals hanging in between the jumbo prizes. I watched as he rubbed his chin and gazed at the toys as if examining an abstract painting. He squinted his right eye. Clearly he was exaggerating, but I couldn’t help but notice how cute he looked. Knock it off, Wicklow. He’s no where near your league.

“That one.” He pointed to the bear with the Yankees jersey. 

“No way, that’s the one I had my eye on before.” 

“I guess I know you better than you think I do.” 

“Here you go miss, enjoy,” the operator swung the large bed pillow-sized bear into my arms and I immediately squeezed it into my chest and rested my cheek on its head. I thanked Cayden for letting me empty our bucket of frogs. 

“My pleasure. Though I would be lying if I said I didn’t admire that bear right now.” Cayden rubbed the back of his neck. I could tell he was mentally kicking himself for making such a bold statement to a girl he’s known for a few short hours. 

“Let’s go see how Rian is doing.” I turned and hoped he didn’t see the red in my face. 

A light crowd had gathered around Rian on his side of the large booth. They watched in awe as he landed a frog in every lilypad he aimed for. He already had the big PacMan, along with a Scooby Doo and a Batman lying beside his launchpad. 

“Alright folks, now who wants to see me bounce this thing to the other side of the pond?” Rian posed like a circus ringmaster. 

“Actually, little brother,” Cayden grabbed the mallet before Rian had a chance to raise it over his head. “I think you may have had enough of this game. Let’s try one of those mechanical crane games that you love, huh?” 

“Oh come on KD, I want to get the R2-D2 for Donovan!” Rian had to be at least 17 but he sounded like an eight year old at Disney begging to ride Space Mountain for the fifth time. 

“Yeah, listen to the man, kid. You gonna take all my prizes!” The other game operator complained. 

“What are you talking about? You guys rake in the dough. Everyone knows these games are rigged.” 

“Listen you little twerp, you callin me a cheat!” 

“No, he’s not. Not at all, sir. Rian, get your stuff and let’s go. Now.” 

“Fine,” he defeatedly grabbed his winnings and followed Cayden and I like an angry puppy down the boardwalk to meet up with the other guys. 

“Now that’s something you don’t see when you come here.” 

“What’s that?” Cayden grabbed my bear for a moment so I could zip my jacket.  

“A Frog Bog sniper.” Out the corner of my eye, I could have sworn I saw Rian, who was trailing several feet behind us, throw something back the other direction.

“Oh, that. Well, he knows a lot about physics and all that stuff. With Gus’s tutoring, he’s getting a better education than I ever did.” 

Suddenly we heard a commotion back at the Frog Bog booth. It was hard to see from where we stood, but it looked like the angry jerk game operator was trying to punch some spiky-haired skater kid in the face as bystanders intervened.  

“Man, that dude’s pissing everyone off tonight, huh?” Rian laughed with a triumphant grin. 

“Rian, do we have to get Gus to come put your ass back on the bus?” 

“Nooo, I didn’t do anything.” 

“How could he, we’re like 50 feet away at this point?” I came to the defense of the little bugger. 

“Exactly, listen to the lady.” Rian held out his Batman to me. “May he always remind you of me and defend your honor, my enchantress.” 

“Aww, thanks Rian.” 

“Dude, really?” 

“Hey, don’t get made at me you weren’t able to win something for the lady.” Rian put his arm around my shoulders. 

“Actually, Cayden was nice enough to let me take his turns so I could win this guy here.” I patted Yankees bear in the head. 

“Awww, how sweet. Look who decided to use his skills to his advantage.” 

“What do you mean?” I asked confused. 

“Nothing, absolutely nothing. Come on little bro, let’s go explain to Donovan why I wouldn’t let you win him a R2.” Cayden playfully put Rian in a headlock and gave him a noogie. Come to think of it, he might not have been playing around that much. 

“NO! No, no, no!” Rian pleaded. “I’ll be good the rest of the night, I swear.” 

With Rian’s head still locked in his bicep, Cayden headed in the direction of the other guys who were standing at a spinning wheel game, and I followed closely behind. 

They never struck me as typical guys from the moment I met them. It didn’t take a genius to figure out these guys weren’t your run-of-the-mill teenagers you’d find in arcades or skateparks. These were grown men in a band – still young, but definitely no longer boys. Yet there was something puzzling about them that went beyond rock star eccentricity. I couldn’t put my finger on it. I knew there’d be little more they would share with me being so close to public figure status, so I tried to go with the flow. Still, something inside me felt that Cayden was being the most secretive, and he was the one that dragged me along with them in the first place. Okay..okay, he didn’t exactly need to drag me to Seaside with him and the boys. I could have easily got in my mother’s car, drove out of that mall parking lot, and never think twice about it. Despite my wonderment, I was ecstatic I took the road less traveled. Rhiannon would he so proud of me, and enormously pissed I didn’t have Gus come pick her up on the way. 

“Hey there you two! Look what I won.” Kyler held up a giant box of Sugar Daddys with the excitement of a lottery winner.

“That’s awesome, Kyler! Pace yourself there, buddy. You’re not going to want to sing after three hours of root canal.” He chuckled at my little joke.  

“Yeah, but check this out,” Quinn pulled a framed mirror out of a paper grocery bag and held it in front of Cayden and I. Our reflection was partially blocked by a big, printed emblem in the center. “Our name is on a boardwalk prize. We have arrived.” 

“The Sleepless Knights..That is so great, you guys. Congratulations! That puts you all up there with Motley Crue.” 

“Ha, I wouldn’t go that far just yet, but thanks for the vote of confidence.” Cayden draped his arm over my shoulder. 

“Hey, listen to the woman,” Quinn asserted. “If this boardwalk was busier right now, we’d be swimming in chicks. Don’t get me wrong. I love that it’s just the six of us. But there’s really no hormonal balance right now.” 

“Man, start thinking with the head on top for a change,” quipped Donovan as he poked his fearless leader in the top head.    

“Oh, before I forget,” Kyler handed me a stuffed Care Bear, “This is for you.” I struggled to carry three rather large stuffed animals. 

“And this is for you,” Quinn slung the strap of a brand new pink boombox radio over my shoulder. 

“Oh my God, guys. This is too much! Are you all winning every game you play?” 

“Yeah” 

“No” 

Donovan and Kyler answered at the same time. 

“Oh yeah, this for you too,” With his head down, Donovan placed a shiny purple lock and key diary in my somewhat free hand. 

“Thank you so much, Donovan. It’s beautiful.” 

“Nice, man,” added Cayden. 

“Yeah, well, I didn’t win what I wanted from that dart and balloon game, so..”    

“Are you kidding. You just wanted to clear that wall of balloons and watch the dude’s jaw drop. You were going to walk away with nothing until you saw that book,” Kyler dodged a swat from an annoyed Donovan. 

“Well either way. Thank you. All of you, so much. This has already been an interesting night,” I laughed and continued to struggle holding all of my loot until Cayden took some of it off my hands. We managed to squeeze the diary, the boombox, and at least the bottom half of one of the stuffed toys into my backpack. Batman’s head stuck out of my Jansport like a baby strapped to my back. 

“Ok, what do you say we hit some rides, huh? Last one to the bumper cars buys ice cream!” Rian exclaimed then ran towards the ride pier. Kyler and Donovan took off behind him. 

“Dude, you know you gotta be able to see over the steering wheel!” Quinn jogged to catch up. 

Cayden and I looked at each other and shook our heads, making a silent agreement that we weren’t going to run. We walked in silence for a few moments. The further we walked into the heart of the boardwalk, I watched him take it all in – the music of the nearby carousel, the bells ringing from the water racing game, the sweet smell of hot funnel cake. It was as if he was looking at everything for the first time because he was. He was definitely more relaxed than he was at the mall. 

“I’m glad you came with us, really.” 

“I am too.” 

“You know I was thinking more about your artwork and your stories and stuff. You should share your work more often. You may not believe it, but your art can save..I mean help..a lot of people in a big way.” 

“Really, you think I’m that good?” 

“I know you’re that good.” 

I looked down at my feet, unsure of how to respond. “Thank you..but I don’t know about saving the world or anything. I simply put down on paper everything this mind conjures up, sometimes whether I like it or not.” 

“Trust me, everything you create will be important to somebody. That’s the great thing about art, knowing that a part of you is going to be needed by at least one total stranger. And for that stranger, you change their world.” Silence fell upon us for a few moments. If the ocean wind wasn’t constantly blowing in my face, I probably wouldn’t have been able to breathe. 

“That’s kind of easy for you to say. Everybody loves a rock band of five hot guys. Art lovers and short story readers are few and far between.” 

“Ahhh, I see how it is. Five hot guys, huh?” he teased. “I knew you were only hanging out with us for our looks.” 

“And don’t forget the prizes!” I held up my Yankees bear and grinned. 

“That’s a low blow, Wicklow. Now you got to make it up to me. I’m outraged.” He slapped his hand to his chest to exaggerate a broken heart. We entered the ride pier and spotted Rian and Kyler waiting to get on the bumper cars, and Quinn and Donovan were next to get on the pier’s only looping roller coaster, The Viper. 

“And how should I make amends? You guys are much better at beating these games than I am.” 

“Oh, I don’t need a stuffed animal or a mirror with my band’s name on it, Agatha. What I do want is for you to ride The Viper with me.” He flashed a mischievous grin.  

“Ha, no way James! I do not get on anything that goes upside down. You’ll be wearing the sausage sandwich I just ate.” 

“You mean you’ve practically grown up on this boardwalk, and you’ve never been on that coaster.” 

“No, I happen to value my sanity and my life to some extent.” 

“What do you think is going to happen? You’re strapped in by metal bars, and you have centripetal force on your side.” 

“Thank you, Sir Isaac Newton, but I’m still not getting on that thing.” 

“Okay, well I guess I’m going on by myself. The boys just got on, so I’ll have to wait for the next run.” He slowly walked away from me, turning his head a couple of times to show me his sad, puppy dog eyes. He must’ve mastered that look a long time ago. It definitely screwed with my resolve. 

“Don’t look at me like that. I’m not doing it.” I squeezed my teddy bear to me for protection. He continued to baby step his way to the Viper line, using that face for all it was worth, even going so far as to kick an imaginary can or stone. 

“These things are always so much better with someone to ride with.” He continued to pout. The few riders ahead of him in line were either couples or parent/child combos, so he would definitely end up riding next to an empty seat. Despite being on the verge of a panic attack, I didn’t want Cayden or any of the guys to think I was a coward. I didn’t have a wealth of prior knowledge about them going into the evening, but I did know they had a reputation for being bold and adventurous. I could only guess they wanted to see the same sense of adventure in anyone they hung out with. I didn’t want yet another reason to feel out of place in their circle.

“Fine!” I asserted after several moments of terrified silence. I joined him in the line which was starting to move up the steps to the ride’s platform.

“I just want you to know I’m not going to enjoy this for a second, and don’t expect me to open my eyes.” 

“I promise you,” he placed a reassuring hand on the small of my back. “You won’t need to have your eyes open.”

We inched our way closer to the rides platform, my eyes transfixed on the coaster coming to a stop. Wind blown faces smiled and laughed which did nothing to ease my worries. Once the current riders climbed out of their seats, it would be our turn. Ever since I was little, I adamantly refused to go on any looping roller coaster. The reality of hanging upside down 80 feet above the Earth below, regardless if it’s for mere seconds, shatters all rational thought. My regular day-to-day thoughts were typically enough to thrust me into a state of mania. I didn’t need to put my life in the hands of engineers. The cars emptied, and then every relaxed or excited soul in front of us in line handed the ride operator their tickets.

“Yeah!! Go for it, Cayd! That was awesome!” Quinn yelled from the ground below. Cayden gave him a thumbs up, but all I could do was scowl. 

“Okay, Ms. Wicklow. You ready for the ride of your life?” 

“You mean..the ride to..the afterlife.” I didn’t realize how short of breath I was until I spoke. 

“Hey, hey, hey, Maeve. It’s alright. I promise you are going to love this. You won’t want it to end.” 

Cayden handed the operator our tickets. I had to think of an escape fast, without looking like a wuss. 

“Oh, darn! I can’t go on with all the stuff you guys gave me. Guess I’ll just have to sit this one out.” 

“You can leave you stuff right here, miss.” The ride operator pointed to the floor of the steel platform, near the controls. 

“There you go! Problem solved,” Cayden rubbed his hands together. 

“Thank you! Sir. I am forever grateful for your help!” I reluctantly placed my backpack and stuffed animals near the control panel. 

“Come on,” Cayden took my hand and squeezed lightly, the warmth and softness offered me a few seconds of ease. “You have nothing to worry about. I swear to you I will break your fall – if our restraints happen to fail us.” 

“Not helpful Cayden!” 

“Sorry, bad choice of words.” 

My heart beat out of my chest, and my palm sweated onto his. As we approached our seats, my vision blurred. Cayden climbed into the car and reached his hand out to me. 

“I’ll have sex with you on the beach instead.” Apparently I had no control of what came out of my mouth either. I never had sex before, and there was no way it was happening that night. He blushed and laughed nervously. The couple in the seats behind us laughed. I’m pretty sure the guy said, “Damn, I wish it was that easy,” which then earned him a backhanded slap to the gut from his girlfriend. 

“Tempting, but that’s not going to get you out of this ride. Let’s go, Wicklow.” 

Every muscle in my body tightened and I held my breath as we got strapped into our seats. There were over-the-shoulder straps as well as a cushioned bar that locked us into place. Despite the security, I couldn’t get my mind to stop racing with images of a catastrophic, bloody derailment or my body being whipped out of its seat and into the Atlantic Ocean.  I gripped the metal handle bars until my knuckles were white and stared blankly at the seat in front of mine. 

“Want to hold my hand?” He tried to unlock my grip from the cold steel. 

“No” 

“Why not?” 

“Because I want to hold on. What do you mean, “why not?” 

“Nothing. Is. Going. To. Happen. Don’t you trust me at least a little bit by now?” His tone had its typical light-heartedness, but I could sense his seriousness too. 

“It’s not that I don’t trust you. I don’t trust machines.” 

“Human beings are machines in one way or another, Maeve. Just as unpredictable too. At least we used to be.” 

“What do you mean, “used to be?” I looked over at him for the first time since we got into our seats. He looked almost somber for someone who was about to ride a rollercoaster he couldn’t wait to get on. I decided to shut up and at least try not to look terrified. 

That didn’t last. The cars jolted forward and began their slow and steep ascent. I flashed my eyes open occasionally to take in the view the higher we crept, but then squeezed them shut once I got a glimpse of the ride’s approaching summit. I studied every sound beneath me, the clanking of the massive chain that pulled us up, the occasional squeaky wheel. I wanted to hold my breath until I passed out, but then I remembered no one can really do that. Cayden pulled at my hand once again, and this time I felt powerless to stop him. Opening one eye, I caught a glimpse of him, his head back against the seat, eyes softly closed, a relaxed smile on that perfect mouth. I looked down to see his fingers intwine with mine, his thumb drawing circles on my skin. Miraculously, my body relaxed and I locked both eyes on him. At that moment, I felt like I could stare at him forever. But then we reached the top and came to a two second halt. 

“Close your eyes.” It was a whisper I shouldn’t have been able to hear. As soon as the coaster started its near 90 degree angled plummet, I complied. He squeezed my hand.  

I felt the force of the drop at first. Then a glow of soft yellow light filled my vision. I knew the wind hit my face, and my long curls flew wildly. But suddenly, I was no longer there. The roar of the machine, the sounds of the boardwalk, the screams of joy from the other riders somehow quieted like a radio being turned down to minimum. I figured my terror somehow blocked out the noise, but I didn’t feel an ounce of tension or fear. But nothing was more overwhelming than what I saw. 

There I was looking out at the ocean as I walked slowly, the waves crashing against the rocks, the lengths of my grayish lavender chiffon dress and black shawl waving violently in the wind, thick locks of hair blowing in my face. The sky finished a late afternoon storm, and the jagged rocks looked menacing, inviting, and quelling all at once. The lush green beneath my feet, which stretched out for miles, was familiar though it was a place I knew I’d never see. 

How did I end up walking the highest point of the Cliffs of Moher? I felt everything – the sea spray, the grass under my bare feet, the warmth of the sun reemerging from the dissipating clouds fused perfectly with the slight chill of the breeze. For several moments, I was alone. Not a living thing, not even a seagull, could be heard or seen. Until a strong pair of arms wrapped around me, and I froze. His breath trailed from behind my ear, down my neck, then lips touched my exposed shoulder.

 I shuddered and attempted to turn to see who it was, but before I could catch the slightest glimpse, his hand gently grabbed my face. He pressed my back against him with his other hand and buried his face in my hair. Right when I tried to speak, a flash of light and a jerking motion pulled me away. The ride had come to an abrupt stop, and began it’s slow roll back to the platform. I looked around windblown and dazed, but I wasn’t sure from which experience. My hand was still wrapped with his, and I looked over to see his beautiful smile. 

“See that wasn’t so bad, was it?” 

“What even happened? Did this thing even move?” I was breathless and confused and there was no point in hiding it. 

“Yeah it did. That was awesome.” 

“I’m glad you had fun. I…I..I don’t know what the hell happened. But I wasn’t here.” 

“Really, where were you?” He asked like he already knew the answer. 

“Nevermind. It was nothing. I guess my imagination is better than I think it is sometimes.”  

He helped me climb out of the car once the coaster finally reached the exit and entrance ramps. I took three steps and my knees felt like they turned to dust. As promised, he stopped me from falling. 

“Whoa, careful there, Agatha,” he held my waist and I grabbed the lapels of his jacket. “Are you okay?” 

“Yeah..yeah I think so. It’s just I saw something…something so real it was as if…,” I started to regain my bearings, “Oh, nothing, don’t worry about me. I’m fine. Better than I’ve been in a long time actually.” I released my grasp on his jacket and went to grab my bag and prizes. He insisted I hold his arm as we made our way down the ramp where the guys were waiting for us. 

“Hey there, Mork and Mindy! How was The Viper?” Kyler asked. 

“She did great, you guys. I’m proud of her.” Cayden draped his arm over my shoulders. 

“Oh come on, it’s not like I climbed Everest or something,” I nudged him with my elbow. 

 “Well, I embarrassed the hell out of this dork on the bumper cars,” Rian boasted as he jumped on Kyler’s back. 

“Only because that’s how you actually drive, ya dickhead.” Kyler shrugged Rian off of him then put the younging into a playful head lock. 

“So what do you say guys? Haunted house time?” asked Quinn. 

“Man, that’s lame. I want to ride The Viper again,” complained Donovan. 

“I’ll go on with you, Don!” Rian jumped in. 

“You better not, dude. We didn’t bring the diapers with us,” teased Kyler. 

“Eat shit and die, numbnuts.” Rian attempted to flick Kyler in the ear. 

“The haunted house has always been a family favorite.” But honestly, I wasn’t in the mood to ride anything else. My head was still reeling from the coaster, and I felt the urge to draw and write before I forgot a single moment of it. 

“Well, let’s go, my lady. Lead the way. Re and Donovan, meet us back at the Scrambler,” Quinn patted Donovan on the back before he and Rian ran back to the growing Viper line. The rest of us made our way to the haunted house. I wanted to go in the haunt, but at the same time, I didn’t – too many good memories of a time lost that ultimately drained every fiber of my existence. 

Cayden sensed my feigned happiness as the cart rolled and twisted its way through the horror themed rooms. I pretty much knew where every mechanical creature was going to pop out at us. I knew where every loud bang and crash was going to sound. Every time a supposed scare happened, he reached over to tickle my side and let out a girly scream, and for several moments, I was a kid again – giggling like an eight year old and not having a care in the world. 

The boys and I went on a few more rides before they decided on an arcade. I wasn’t interested in playing arcade games at that point, and my feet were killing me. I told them to go have fun while I grabbed an Orange Julius and relaxed on a bench. 

“You guys go ahead. I’m going to stick with Maeve.” Cayden took a seat next to me. 

“Okay, but you two crazy kids stay out of trouble now, you here.” Quinn winked then followed the rest of them to the beeping melodies of the arcade games. 

“He’s not much for subtlety is he?” 

“Never has been. Never will be. Still, I don’t know what I’d do without him though.” 

“They’re all such great brothers to have. You’re very lucky, Cayden.” 

“Well, Kyler is the only one who is my biological brother. The others I’ve known since we were in diapers.” 

“Oh, I would have never had guessed. Now that you mention it, I guess I do see the resemblance a little. You definitely have prett…I mean..bigger, more expressive eyes.” I looked down at my lap, hoping he didn’t catch on to my near slip. I really need to learn how to shut my pie hole sometimes. 

“Thank you. And you…you have the wildest head of hair I’ve ever seen on a woman.” 

“Thanks, I guess,” I ran my fingers through my curls that were definitely unruly thanks to the wind and sea mist. He turned to look out into the ocean. 

“Hey, what do you say we walk the beach a little while those buttheads blow all their cash on Donkey Kong.” 

“This isn’t going to be the part where you kill me and throw me in the ocean, right?” I asked mischievously. 

“No, but I wouldn’t mind trying that sex on the beach thing you were talking about earlier.” 

I laughed nervously and looked the other way. I knew he wasn’t serious, for the most part, but I couldn’t help but feel my face start to burn. 

“You know I’m kidding, right? My hands will not leave my pockets, I swear.” 

“Alright, alright. But remember what I said about those fountain pens. I’m not afraid to use them.” 

We walked close enough to the water where there was nothing but wet sand beneath our feet. Occasionally, I used the glow of the boardwalk to look back at our footprints in the sand. We talked about music, art, which Godfather was the best out of the three, and life in general. Well, I did most of the talking and he asked the questions, which was fine with me since I’m not an initiator – especially in that situation. What do you ask a man that appeared to have it all – growing fame and fortune, family and friends, travel and luxuries? 

Still, all of my questions were given vague answers or complete reversals. In such a short amount of time, I never knew how much one person could be a friend and a total stranger at the same time. We found a dry, sandy spot to sit and simply stare out into the vastness of the ocean. The waves were gentle and rhythmic, and only a few stars could be seen through the scattered clouds. All of the boat lights in the distance put on more of a light show. Cayden lie back, propped up on his elbows while I stayed sitting upright. Suddenly, I felt the urge to crack the walls he seemed to build around himself. I needed him to know that I would never be some nutjob groupie who would sell his story to the highest bidder. 

“Tell me something that no one will ever know – no matter how famous you guys get and for how long.” 

“Ohhh, so you are putting us in fad status already, huh? I see bow it is?” He winked. 

“No,” I playfully slapped his leg, “Don’t put words in my mouth. I’m serious. Something no one else will ever know. Don’t you trust me? It’s not like I’m going to run and talk to some tabloid. I don’t talk to anyone.” 

“Believe it or not..I live a pretty simple life despite being in a band. I’m just a guy from Maine trying to live a dream, I guess.” 

“There is nothing about any of you that’s simple, Cayden. People like me who live in towns like Eatontown, New Jersey, who hang out in skating rinks, and make $4.50 an hour live simple lives.” I packed the sand in front of me to build a little mountain. 

“Okay, let me think here,” he sat up straight. “Something no one else will ever know. Hmmm..when I was a kid, going through a car wash used to terrify me.” 

“Really,” I laughed. 

“Yes really. Those big flaps that would swish around and cover the whole car, I thought we were being eaten by a giant squid!” 

“You are impossible. I feel like you know my whole life by now, and I barely know anything about you. Yet here I am with you in the dark, totally alone, How do I know you’re not a serial killer.” 

“Don’t you think I would have done it by now?”  

“I guess you have a point.” A few moments of silence fell as I let some sand fall through my fingers.

“Okay, three truths. Are you ready?” He turned to face me, his brilliant, hazel orbs still visible in the minimal light. 

“Okay,” I breathed.  

“I’m a big grudge holder. I would give up the band if I could and fix up a dilapidated house in the middle of nowhere. And you have an remarkable talent that shouldn’t just sit there in a backpack, not being put to good use.”

“That’s not fair. That last one was about me.”  

“I said three truths. None of them had to be about me.” 

“Okay, so what would be a lie then?” 

“Every self-deprecating thing you say about yourself, Maeve Wicklow. You have so many gifts..I wish I can tell you what they are..but…” He raked his hand through his hair and sighed in frustration. 

“But what, Cayden?” I whispered. 

“Nothing, nevermind. All I’m saying is, don’t let your talent go to waste. You deserve more than just selling dog biscuits in a shopping mall.” 

“The world isn’t necessarily my oyster, James. I have my parents to take care of, and I’m kind of on my own.” 

“I know.” 

“What do you mean, you know?” 

“No, I remember you saying something like that on the bus on the way here, that’s all. Hey, you know what,” desperate to change the subject, “I know it’s probably freezing cold but let’s dip our toes in the water!” He quickly removed his boots and socks. 

“Are you crazy? It’s only April. It’s going to feel like daggers to your feet!” 

“Oh come on, you survived The Viper. I don’t think a little cold water is going to do anything to you.” He yanked off my one sneaker and then the other before rolling my socks off. I hoped the tremor that raced through my body when his warm hands touched my feet wasn’t too obvious. 

“Come on, it will be fun.” He reached his hands to me to lift me up. 

“Alright, but don’t say I didn’t warn you. This water doesn’t get to a tolerable level until July.” 

He took my hand as we crept closer to where the waves were breaking. As soon as the water hit our skin, we laugh screamed and did a dance as if we were walking on nails. 

“Oh. My. God. Alright, have you gotten this out of your system now?” I attempted to pull him back with me. 

“No wait, come on,” he pulled me back closer to him. He stood behind me and wrapped me in an embrace. “It’s nicer the closer we are to the water, like the rest of the world has disappeared.” He realized how tightly he had me pressed against him and slightly relinquished his hold. But I could feel his hands, the right one callused from so many years of playing guitar, under my jacket and resting on the skin uncovered by my crop top. At first, I froze in place, trying not to hold my breath or tremble but then soon relaxed. 

“Never take this night from me 

God, don’t let me just be. 

Don’t make me choose,

I got everything to lose…” 

He oddly waved his hand in front of us as he softly sang the lyrics to one of The Sleepless Knights’ songs. My hair blew in his face, and he didn’t seem to care. As nervous as I was, I felt like I couldn’t be anywhere else at that moment. Then the greenish, blue lights appeared. Rising to the surface of the water, forming nebulas, as if the ocean could still mirror what the sky couldn’t show us. 

“Oh my God.” 

“What? What’s wrong?” 

“Look at that. Do you know what that is?” 

“Oh, some shiny stuff in the water I guess.” 

“Cayden, that’s..that’s bioluminescence. Our waters are too green and murky usually. You never see that here, ever. That is amazing.” 

“Oh yeah, I’ve heard about that. That’s cool. Not something you see every day, right?” 

“It’s been on my list of things I need to do before I die for a long time now.” I continued to stare at the mesmerizing glow I thought I’d never see. 

“You have a list like that?” 

“Yeah, I think everybody does at some point.” 

“May I ask what’s at the top of your list?” 

“Well, as a matter of fact. I was somehow fully transported to Ireland during the Viper ride, and that is my dream.” 

“Really, was that why you were so out-of-it? You looked like you saw a ghost.”

“That’s just it. I felt like..I wasn’t in my body. But I know I was. It was my crazy hair whipping around, I felt the grass beneath my feet. It was just so weird. I’ve had plenty of out-of-body experiences, but this…this was different. And I wasn’t alone.” 

“Maybe you’re never really alone, Maeve.”  

He looked at me with an intensity I had yet to experience. “I mean, you have your art work, your writing, your friend Rhiannon you mentioned, school, work.” 

“You have no idea what it means to be alone, Cayden. You have your brother and your three best friends who love you. You’ll travel the world and create awesome music. I’ve got Black Friday sales and community college, if I’m lucky.” 

“Why do you have to bring yourself down like that?” He pulled me closer to him again until our faces were inches apart.  

“I speak as I find, Mr. Donnelly.” 

“You’ll make it to the Cliffs of Moher one day. I promise.” 

“How did you know I saw the Cliffs of Moher?” 

“What? Oh, just a wild guess.” We locked eyes for what seemed like full minutes but was mere seconds. 

“This night has been..so strange and confusing, but..I don’t want it to end.” He brushed a curl out of my face. 

“Listen to me now, Maeve. Things may..only get stranger and even more confusing, but..” He struggled to find the words. “Just know that I will always, always tell you nothing but truths.” 

All I could do was nod as we continued to lock eyes. His face was so close to mine I felt his breath on my lips. I didn’t know what to do. Move in closer? Part my lips a little? My great-grandmother always said it was bad etiquette for a woman to stand with her lips apart for no reason. But then how were you supposed to let a guy know it was okay to kiss you? Was it really okay, or did the fact I would never see him again make it hurt too much? So I just froze. Suddenly, I couldn’t feel the cold water at my feet. 

Boom! Boom! Boom! 

We were scared out of our wits by fireworks, and the bioluminescence had disappeared. 

“We should get back before the guys send out a search party.” 

“Yeah, of course. It is getting late, isn’t it? And I don’t want my Mom’s car to get towed out of the mall lot.” 

We put our shoes back on, gathered my things, and trudged through the sand back to the boardwalk. We hardly spoke the whole way back, but he always looked like he had something on the tip of his tongue. It didn’t take long for me to regret not getting a chance to taste it. 

The Sleepless Knights – novel excerpt II – an 80’s/90’s Jersey based supernatural fantasy.

“Ha, no. I just..um..wanted to see if you’d reconsider.” 

“Well..I..uh..I don’t know,” she fiddled with the charm necklace she was wearing. “My mom always told me not to take rides from strange boys,” she exaggerated a shy demeanor, fluttering her eyes. 

“You know, you’re insecure act isn’t going to work on me, Agatha,” I winked. 

“I guess I have to try harder, James. So where’s the ‘49 Mercury?” 

“In the shop. Right now it’s that big bastard over there.” When I glanced over my shoulder,  I spotted Quinn, Kyler, and Rian making their way towards us. “And here comes the rest of the crew. If you’re going to make a run for it, do it now.” But she didn’t move. 

“My apologies, my lady,” Quinn bowed, “if I my big mouth frightened you, but our brother Cayden here told us all about you, and we couldn’t let you drive away before introducing ourselves. I am Quinn, lead guitar in our little brigade. This fine young specimen is Kyler, lead vocals, and this little spitfire is Rian, our keyboardist.” Kyler waved and smiled at Maeve, but Rian, being the wannabe crooner, kissed her hand and said, “I’m enchanted.” 

“Dude, you just took that from The Temple of Doom,” Kyler lightly swatted Rian in the back of the head.

“What? I did not! What are you talking about?” 

“You know, the scene when they make it to Pankot Palace, and the head dude told Willie Scott, “I’m enchanted,” Kyler finished in a bad English accent. 

“Whatever man, it’s not my fault you’re jealous of my skills even though I’m the youngest.” 

“Guys, please. Can we maybe not act like we were raised by wolves?” I interrupted, even though Maeve was quietly laughing at their antics. 

“It’s nice meeting you guys, and congratulations on all the success you’re achieving so quickly. I hear you put on a really good show.” 

“Thank you, but our shows are not just shows, my dear. They are life experiences.” 

“Quinn,” I gave him a stern look.  

“Hey, all I am saying is you may walk away with..a new outlook on life.” 

“I am sure of it.” I could tell she wasn’t impressed. 

“So are we going to stand around in a mall parking lot all night or are we going to party?” Kyler complained. 

“Only if Maeve agrees to join us,” Quinn smiled. “Otherwise, we’re stuck with Kung Fu Master battles and McDLT’s while Gus cruises the parkway.”

“Yeah, come out with us. I promise we’re not as scary as we may look.” I think I failed at not sounding like a 5 year old in Toys R’ Us.  

“Oh..um..well, I would really love to, but I..made other plans.” 

“Watching Nick at Nite until you pass out? Those are plans?” She shot me a fake dirty look. 

“Ooh, what’s your favorite show on Nick at Nite?” Kyler, the movie and TV buff, asked excitedly. 

“The Bad News Bears.” 

“Mine is Dennis the Menace.” 

“Mr. Ed for me,” added Rian. 

“Did you know they used peanut butter on the horse’s gums to get his mouth to move?” Kyler asked. 

“No, I didn’t. That’s crazy,” Maeve giggled as she made another attempt to search for her keys in her backpack. Sensing we were losing her, I looked over at Quinn for help. 

“Maeve, you are more than welcome to join us on the bus tonight for some good old black and white TV and junk food, but we were thinking more along the lines of wreaking havoc at Seaside Heights. But we would need guidance from a Jersey boardwalk veteran. Are you the Frog Bog queen we need?” 

“Are you kidding? My family and I practically lived on that boardwalk. Haven’t been there in a while though,” she finished sadly. 

“Then that settles it. Let’s roll! I’m dying for some soft serve.” Rian ran back towards the bus. 

“Yeah, come on, Maeve. It’ll be fun. Somebody besides me has to beat this numbnuts in Skeeball.” Kyler pointed to Quinn. 

“Ky, it’s not our place to push the matter. Let’s leave these two be. Maeve, it was a pleasure meeting you,” Quinn bowed then patted Kyler on the shoulder, urging his friend to follow him back towards the bus. 

“Hope to see you around, Maeve,” Kyler strode backwards to catch up with Quinn. “And don’t worry about my brother there. He won’t bite unless you ask him to.”

“Kyler, piss off!” I yelled and shook my head. “Sorry about that, we’re trying to figure out whether he needs an exorcism or a shrink.” 

“That’s okay,” she laughed. “They seem like really great guys.” 

“Yeah, sometimes better in small doses,” I wisecracked. “But we’ve known each other since we were in diapers so…” 

“You must have a great time together then – traveling all over, playing your music, running from teenage girls in heat through shopping malls.”

“You’re glamorizing it, Agatha.” 

“Once again, I speak as I find. James.” 

“If you got to know us, you might find more to us than what you see in Teen Beat magazine.” 

“Well, I already know one of you doesn’t like being mobbed, willing to dive into clothing racks to escape certain death by Loves Baby Soft perfume.” 

“Are you sure you won’t come to the boardwalk with us? We’ll bring you right back here to your car whenever you’re ready.” The horn on the bus sounded. It had to have been Rian, and Gus undoubtedly smacked his hand away. No one ever touched the wheel but Gus. 

“I don’t know, Cayden. I..I -”

“Look, I’m sorry. Quinn is right. I shouldn’t be pressuring you. I’m just..I’m really glad I got to meet you, Maeve Wicklow.” Despite my better judgment, I took her hand and kissed it before backing away to jog towards the bus. Its engine hummed in the otherwise quiet night. I felt like a complete fool. I wanted to keep running down the road until I finally hit the beach. Once I found an overturned lifeguard boat, I could hide underneath until I was forgotten. I never thought it would be hard for most people to do.

“Wait!” 

Music to my ears. 

“Wait up,” Maeve caught up to me, out of breath. “Okay, I’ll go. Just know I have fountain pens in this bag that I’m not afraid to use as weapons, so if any of you guys value your testicles, I suggest you don’t try anything.”  

“Noted,” a raised my hands in surrender. “Come on, let me give you the tour of our humble abode on wheels.” 

All the guys except for Donovan were standing around outside of the bus when I reached them with Maeve at my heels. 

“Well now, the skeptical Jersey girl has changed her mind,” Quinn grinned. 

“I can’t have a bunch of out-of-towners leave without showing you where to get the best sausage sandwiches.” 

“Awesome, let’s book!” Quinn knocked on the door and seconds later it swung open. Before any of us could react, Ezekiel leapt into Maeve’s arms, startling her. She still managed to safely catch him despite the shock. He immediately started licking her cheek.  

“Damn! He usually hates every living thing on Earth besides us!” Kyler looked over at me in amazement. 

“I know. I mean, it’s not like he’s ever viscous, but he definitely doesn’t care to be around others.” I scratched Ezekiel’s head as he continued to sniff at Maeve’s face and ear which made her giggle and smile. I liked watching how her eyes fluoresced even under the pale yellow glow of the light post. 

“Well, sometimes animals can surprise you,” she rocked him. “He’s adorable. What kind of dog is he?” 

“He’s some sort of Pug mix. We’re not sure. But anyway, may I introduce Ezekiel. My apologies if he came on a little too strong there.” 

“Aww, no worries. He’s being a perfect gentleman if you ask me. Let’s just hope his friends do the same,” she winked. 

“Come on, you too. The rides and games aren’t open 24 hours,” yelled Quinn from inside the bus. I motioned to her as if to say “ladies first” to which she gave me a playful little eye roll. Suddenly, I remembered the bus looked like a college dorm room. I didn’t get a chance to clean it and I certainly wasn’t expecting company. She said hello to Gus while still holding Ezekiel and our enigmatic driver politely smiled and nodded. Following right behind her, I watched as she scanned our living area. Clothes, bags of snacks, soda cans, books, magazines, and papers littered almost every space that wasn’t used for sitting or sleeping.   

“Wow, talk about Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, huh?” Her signature sarcasm never waned. Ezekiel began to whine and squirm in her arms, so she kissed him then let him down near his water bowl. The guys relaxed at the table or on the couches and bickered about what to watch on TV. 

“Admittedly, this place could use a woman’s touch, but when you’re living the confirmed bachelor road life, a Pinto can feel like home,” Quinn shoved a stack of Dorito chips in his mouth. 

“Come here, let me introduce you to Gus,” I took her hand, which she tried to pull away from mine for a mere second or two, and led her back to the front of the bus. 

“Gus, this is Maeve. Maeve, meet the driver of our chariot and the world’s most reliable walking encyclopedia, Gus.” 

“It’s nice to meet you,” she extended her hand to Gus. He clasped her fingers gently and gave her a light shake. 

“It isn’t what we say or think that defines us, but what we do. Ja–”  

“Jane Austen,” she replied before giving Gus a chance to cite the speaker. Gus smiled and nodded in appreciation. 

“How did you know that?” 

“My grandmother brought me up on Jane Austen. Among many other geniuses.”  

All I could do was lock eyes with her. At that moment, I knew she would only continue to show us how remarkable she was. She would prove to the others that she was the one we needed. 

“Hey, are we getting the hell out of this parking lot and doing something or should I just go back to bed?” Donovan stormed out from behind the curtain that separated our living area from our bunks. He grabbed a T-shirt and threw it on as soon as he saw Maeve but made no attempt to introduce himself. 

“Who pissed in your Ovaltine, ya meat head? We have a visitor,” reprimanded Kyler. 

“I see.” 

“Don,” I walked Maeve over to our grossly muscular drummer. “This is Maeve. Maeve meet Donovan. He may look scary but he’s really a gentle giant.” 

“Hi, nice to meet you.” 

“How ya doing?” He made no attempt to shake hands, and he barely looked at her. It was a nice enough greeting, I figured, for him anyway. Donovan walked passed us and sat in the seat closest to the front as Gus maneuvered his way out of the parking lot. 

“Don’t worry about him,” I whispered to her. “He has a hard time..warming up to new people.” 

“He seems shy, for such a big guy. He looks like he could have been in the movie, Predator.” 

“Yeah, Jesse Ventura robbed him of that role.” She jokingly elbowed me. “Come on, let’s take a load off.” 

I cleared a space for her to sit on the couch, and she placed her treasured backpack on the floor by her feet. I got her a soda, and we passed the time telling jokes and childhood stories as we watched Nick at Nite. It was a good 25 minute drive down the parkway to get to Seaside, and in that time, she seemed to become more relaxed, not so quick to turn to the jokes or sarcasm as a shield. When she put her journal on the table and flipped through some pages, the silent, slack-jawed astonishment amongst the guys didn’t go unnoticed. Even Donovan moved closer to us for a look at her work. By the time I could get the guys to snap out of it and return to Earth, the lights of the boardwalk shown through the enormous windshield. 

“Last one to the Frog Bog is buying dinner!” Like an 8 year old on his first trip to Disney World, Rian ran off the bus as soon as it stopped. 

“Shall we, Ms. Wicklow.” 

“With pleasure, Mr. Donnelly.” 

That smile would be the one thing that could kill me. And I might have been totally okay with that. 

 Let the Games Begin 

“Okay, okay, Maeve’s turn. Two truths and a lie,” Kyler took a big bite out of his second sausage sandwich. 

“Umm..okay, let me think..hmmm..I broke two fingers falling off a swing when I was eight. I eat the cookie part of an Oreo before the filling, and I squirted what was left of a Ssips iced tea drink box into a bully’s ear.”

“I’m going to go with the Oreo. That’s a lie. Nobody does that,” Quinn insisted. 

“I say the juice box in the bully’s ear,” Rian feverishly shook and squeezed what was left in the ketchup bottle onto his basket of crinkle cut fries.  

Donovan read a comic book he won at the first game he played when we arrived. I knew he didn’t like me which I couldn’t figure out. Cayden said it took awhile for him to warm up to strangers, but this cold shoulder seemed to be bigger than just hesitation. It was as if he didn’t trust me. I knew they had a lot of run-ins with psycho fan girls, but I wasn’t acting like one at all. Maybe that was why he didn’t care for me? It was puzzling to say the least.   

“What about you, Cayden? You haven’t tried to guess one yet.” 

“Oh, Cayden isn’t allowed to play. He’s too good at this game. Too much of an advantage,” Quinn quickly chimed in. 

“Yeah, I know everything about these guys already.” 

“You don’t know everything about me.” 

“Maybe I do, maybe I don’t.” 

“What are you, telepathic?” I jested. Kyler spit out his soda followed by a stifled laugh from Quinn. 

“No, just a really good guesser that’s all,” he glared at his friends. 

“So who got it right?” Rian asked impatiently. 

“Well, you were both wrong. I haven’t broken a single bone in my body. Knock on wood.” 

“Who the hell eats the cookie before the cream?” Quinn shook his head. 

“I do. Ever hear of saving the best for last?” 

“You squirted juice in some asshole’s ear? Why did you waste it? You never get enough in one juice box as it is.” Cayden nudged me with his elbow. 

“Hey, the kid stole my favorite colored pencils and he snapped my training bra in the middle of class. He had it coming.”  

And there we were. Scarfing down some boardwalk staples and having a few laughs at a picnic table as the sounds of games and rides filled the salty air. It was unusually warm for an April evening. Spring always seemed to take its old sweet time in the northeast. But that night seemed to be perfect, on many levels, and that scared the hell out of me.

As we finished up our meals and continued to shoot the breeze, my mind kept wandering back to the same question. How did I get here? Under normal circumstances, I had little to offer what would ordinarily intrigue the opposite sex. Hell, I had never been on a real date. I wasn’t sure if anybody really went on official dates anymore. I didn’t think of that situation as being a date. There were five of them and one of me. That’s quite gross actually, even for the Jersey shore. 

But I still would have never imagined hanging out in a place that held boatloads of treasured memories for me with five guys in a fairly famous band. No one knew where I was and with whom, but there was no way anyone would be coming to look. For once I wasn’t Maeve anymore, erased from my usual existence. I kind of liked that. I tried not to like it too much. 



The Sleepless Knights – an 80’s/90’s Jersey-based supernatural fantasy – excerpt

Here I am, diving into another novel I may or may not finish. But this has been pretty motivating, and I am now using Plottr which has been an absolute Godsend and making the process go 10x smoother. Tentative title is The Sleepless Knights, set in Jersey (duh), late 80’s going into the 90’s so there will be a lot of pop culture references. Overall, it’s a fantasy with some supernatural elements. Here’s a piece of the beginning chapters. Enjoy 🙂

“Do you have a Swedish Vullhound?”

“Hmmm. Not sure I’ve ever heard of that breed before.”

“They are quite rare, my dear. But you should carry rare breeds. Show dog owners love to spend money.” Distant screams and cheers traveled from the far end of the mall.

“Dear Lord, what on Earth is all that racket about?” “I think a band is doing a signing event at Sam Goody’s.”

“Hm, I cannot name a more ear-splitting sound than a teenage girl’s voice.” The older lady dressed in a McCall’s suit with huge shoulder pads rubbed her temples.

“Can I interest you in a cubic zirconia studded collar? I asked, striking a Vanna White pose towards the bedazzled dog accessories. “No, just the treats will do. I have to get out of this sorry excuse for a shopping mall. I simply CAN NOT take that God forsaken noise anymore.”

I quickly rang her up and bagged her homemade treats. Handing her the bag, I wished her a pleasant day, and she left without saying a word. Such was life at Just BeClaws pet gift and supply shop. Out of all the stores in the Monmouth Galleria, my shop was probably the least frequently visited when it wasn’t Christmas time. But the owners were nice enough to hire me three years prior, at 15 and with no job experience. It kept me from flipping burgers, and I could use my mall employee discount at the pizzeria and the bookstore.

Because it was often slow in the store, I could concentrate on my homework, which was rarely a problem, and most importantly, I could hang out with the friends I created with words and pictures, on any pages I could get my hands on. I was the prototypical nerd. The girl who actually enjoyed homework and writing long papers pleading for more vegetarian options in the cafeteria and eliminating the 4 years of gym graduation requirement. I finished clearance tagging some tacky cat jewelry then returned to the counter in the center of the store. I plopped my butt down on the uncomfortable wooden stool and picked up where I left off on my science paper – What would life in New Jersey be like if there were no other humans left besides me? Everyone could choose whatever state or country they wanted to focus on. I could have chosen a million other places I have never and will ever see, but I decided to go the easy route. It’s almost the end of my senior year, and I’m fried. Besides, people aren’t going anywhere for a while. The world will remain loud and confusing, even in silence. I closed my science notebook and dug out my leather bound book filled with handmade hemp paper. A Christmas gift from my best friend Rhiannon. We loved frequenting the hippie store, Intrinsic, on the top level of the mall, thinking we were cool checking out the bajas adorned with marijuana leaves and the psychedelic tapestries glowing under black lights. Carved into the leather cover was The Tree of Life. I knew this had a deeper meaning than simply being a tree, I just hadn’t bothered to find out what it was.

Memory waited patiently, as she did every day, for her new friend to arrive, wondering what new stories he’d have to tell and what new songs she could teach him on the piano. It was getting late, and she started to worry how much time she’s have to spend with him that night. But then again, her time alone in the apartment at night…

I paused and started doodling flowers on the side of the page when frantic footsteps and a near breathless voice yanked me out of my reverie.

“No matter who comes in here. I’m not here. You never saw me!”

Before I could register what just happened or muster some sort of response, the guy dove underneath a rack of thick, hanging afghans, all sporting cutesy embroidered pictures of different dog breeds. I barely got a look at his face.

“Is everything okay, sir?”

“Shhh, you’re going to give me away.”

“I can’t even see your feet.”

He ignored me. Suddenly, the sound of young, desperate female voices distracted me from the mystery man hiding within the throw blankets.

“Haveyouseenhim? Haveyouseenanyoftheguyscomebyhere? Whichwaydidhego?”

The blonde, who was obviously the leader of the trio of frantic girls, had a mouth full of braces and couldn’t catch her breath. The other two clung to her studded, denim jacket as if she was the only one who knew the way to Contempo Casuals.

“Ummm..I’m not sure who you are referring to.” I had to stop myself from looking over at the afghan rack.

“Well duh! Only one of the hottest guys on the planet! Where have you been?”

“Umm..reality? You should come visit some time. We have awesome bagels.” I shot her a goofy grin.

“Ugh, you’re weird!” grunted one the blonde’s lesser attractive disciples. “Can I interest you in a Yorkie plush to cuddle on those cold lonely nights?” I gestured again like Vanna towards the group of plush toys sitting on the shelf behind me.

“Get a life, loser. Come on girls, there’s no way anyone important came into this store.” The bratty trio turned to leave.

“Come back soon when we have more of those biscuits you liked.” The blonde gave me the finger and her minions followed. I was also one of those girls who had a hard time understanding the typical teenage mind. Maybe I was weird or a freak, but I certainly wasn’t interested in being whatever the hell normal was supposed to be.

“They’re gone.” He sighed before peeking through the wall of blankets surrounding him.

“Thanks. That was close. You mind if I just hang out here for a few until I know the coast is clear.” He stayed crouched down, partially hidden by the height of the counter.

“If you wish. No one is going to come looking for you in here unless you are a big dog or cat lover.”

“I’m allergic to cats. Dogs are awesome. I’m getting one soon.” “Well, let me know if you need me to put together a new puppy pack for ya. It’s kind of my forte as you can see. At least until college.”

“Thanks. Hey, I never caught you’re name.”

“That’s because I didn’t throw it, James.”

“James?”

“As in Dean.”

“Oh yeah, nice!” He smiled and nodded with pride. I couldn’t believe I spoke casually with a boy- a boy who was obviously older than me. A boy who looked intricately chiselled from smooth marble or painted with watercolor and fine tip brushes – an ethereal blend of art and reality. He had 5 o’clock shadow, and his thick chestnut hair was slicked back but soft with a few wisps hanging down over his forehead. I never thought a pair of hazel eyes could be that noticeable. I have hazel eyes but the kind you can’t see unless you look closely under right lighting. His eyes were leaves when they’re just about to turn in October. Tight Levi’s, a slightly tattered black leather jacket, a gold chain, and a white T-shirt completed his look that spelled “unattainable” as much as it spelled “danger”.

“I’m Cayden. Cayden Donnelly.” He held out his hand.

“I know who you are.” I hesitated before gently clasping his soft hand. It’s funny what you can remember like it was five minutes ago even though it happened decades before. That was one of those moments.

“Really, you listen to our music?”

“If it pops up on the radio. Can’t say I’ve added you guys to one of my mix tapes yet.”

“So what do you usually listen to? No wait, don’t tell me..The Comets, or Stella, right?” I wasn’t surprised he named a popular girl rock band and a solo singer, both of whom were played religiously at the roller skating rink that Rhiannon and I frequented.

“They’re okay..if you need something to dance to. But growing up in my house you have to be into hard rock, the longer the hair and the tighter the spandex, the better. At least that’s what it used to be,” I finished under my breath.

“That’s cool. My parents were hippies, so everything they listen to requires tie-dye and acid trips.”

I aimlessly sifted through papers sitting behind the counter trying to look busy. I had a terrible feeling the more we kept talking, the harder it would be to think of good things to say. He started whistling, looking around, and tapping his fingers on the table. Anxiously, I tried to think of something else to say to him. But he was a hot guy who was part of a band who were rapidly rising to Bon Jovi-level stardom.What more could I say to him that he’d actually care about? As soon as he left, nothing I said or did will ever be a second thought in that pretty head of his.

“So..do you like working here?”

“It’s okay. Gives me plenty of time to myself since what you see is what you get as far as customers,” I waved my hands around the empty store.

“Must get kind of boring though, huh?”

“I’m alone a lot but rarely bored.”

“Ha, sometimes I wish I knew what being alone is like. When you’re on the road with your five brothers, and you can barely run into a Dunkin Donuts without getting bombarded by screaming girls, you don’t get many quiet moments.” He smiled but I could tell he was only half joking.

“Awww, what’s the matter? Too much hairspray and frosted lipstick for your tastes,” I quipped, offering him a stick of Juicy Fruit which he accepted.

“Definitely,” he chucked.

“Well, trust me, unless you like boardwalk games and Pork Roll, egg, and cheese, don’t bother with a Jersey girl.” I was only half kidding.

“Ahhh yes, the infamous pork roll versus Taylor ham, boardwalk and Skeeball, New Jersey stereotype. I can relate. I’m Irish Catholic, so everyone thinks I’m a drunk.”

“Do you ever get asked if your a Kennedy?” I laughed.

“Not yet,” he smiled. He had a contagious smile. He’d make you smile even if you were enjoying being pissed off, and then that would piss you off more. His eyes never seemed to change size when he smiled but you can tell it was an honest grin.

“So are you going to tell me your name, or are you going to leave me in suspense?” He spun a turning rack of calendars around, still trying to hide his presence from fans who may happen to pass by.

“If I tell you, you’re not going to stalk me are you? I mean, I know my intense allure is hard to resist,” I bantered.

It was fifteen minutes to 9 pm, so I used my key to bring the gate a quarter of the way down, a classic mall indicator of approaching closing time.

“A little too self-deprecating don’t you think?”

“I speak as I find, Mr. Donnelly,” I smirked.

He followed me around the store closely as I straightened racks and shelves. With every step he took closer to me, I tried to take a step away.

“But what if others find you interesting?”

“I kind of don’t know what that’s like.”

“Well, I think you’re interesting.”

“But you don’t even know me.”

“Trust me, I know more than you think..I mean..I’ve been around plenty of girls like you.”

“Girls like me, huh? And what kind of girl is that?” I made my way back behind the counter, opened the register, and began counting bills – anything to maintain a space between us. Though I can’t say I was particularly nervous around him. Still, I needed to keep my guard up. He could have been one of those skirt-chasing, sex-crazed rock stars who could seduce a nun if he wanted to. But again, I wasn’t the skirt-wearing, boy-chasing type of girl, assuming guys didn’t want to be chased by a girl less exciting than a can of Tab soda.

“Smart, quirky, but closed off, like you’re always trying to hide from everything. But you don’t realize that..that you are…everything..to somebody.”

I froze at his answer and looked at him. He raked his hand through his hair then rubbed the back of his neck. I probably should have said thank you. I probably shouldn’t have felt the need to hide the heat in my face.

“And I guess you know me so well, huh?” I finally answered, trying desperately not to smile but failing as I counted coins.

“Of course I don’t know you. But let’s just say..I see a lot in people they don’t necessarily see in themselves.”

I nodded then started to count nickels aloud as he effortlessly juggled a few tennis balls he grabbed from a bin of dog toys. He could easily see I was getting ready to close the store, but seemed to be making no attempt to leave. Not one teenage girl had walked by in a while, so he could easily leave without the fear of being bum-rushed by raging hormones.

“Well, anyway, I need to finish closing up shop, so…”

“What are you doing when you get out of here?” He quickly threw the balls back in the toy bin then leaned forward on the counter towards me.

“Umm, not sure. Probably just going home, writing a few pages, then watching Nick at Night until I pass out. Why?”

“Yeah, I write and I draw. It’s my major. I’m a regular Renaissance woman,” I held up my journal and showed him a few pages.

“Wow,” he reached for my book. “This is incredible. Can I see?”

“Uh..sure. Just keep it at a few glances, if you don’t mind. I can’t even remember half of what I’ve written or drawn in there. Don’t want to incriminate myself, you know?” I replied, partially in jest. He quickly flipped through some pages, looking up at me in astonishment from time to time.

“Amazing.”

“Thanks,” I reached for my journal, and he handed it over without little protest.

“It seems like you’ve illustrated some stories there.”

“Yeah, sometimes. Sometimes they just..come to me.”

“Can you come meet me outside once you’re done? I’d like to introduce you to some friends of mine. Plus, we’re not sure what there is to do around here on a Friday night. I figured you could show us the best places for some harmless shenanigans.”

“Oh, well..I don’t know. I have my mother’s car, and I guess I’m expected to back home.”

“Are you sure?”

Not really, I wanted to say. I’d never been asked to hangout with a group of guys before, especially guys who were on the fringe of being considered megastars. Not to mention he had a dangerous smile that could stop time and heal the wounded.

“Thanks anyway,” I walked back over to the gate, passing him, feeling his eyes on me. Soft leather scent mixed with sandalwood and sage hit me like a gust of wind before a violent thunderstorm. Failing to avoid anymore eye contact, I placed the key back into the device that lowered and raised the gate. Then I waited, trying not to stand impatiently like I was kicking him out of the store. I don’t think I had to try too hard.

“Well, good night Cayden. I was happy to help you avoid the clothes ripping and hair pulling associated with being a rock star.”

“True,” he laughed. “You saved me big time. This is my lucky jacket.” He smiled sadly as he bent his way under the partially closed metal, entering the now dimly lit mall walkway. Reluctantly, I brought the gate the rest of the way down, keeping me safe within the small store I knew too well.

“Are you sure you don’t want to come hang out with us? It doesn’t seem like you need to get home right away.” He looked at me pleadingly through the thin metal bars and gently clasped the gate with both hands. At that moment I wasn’t sure if it was he or I who looked like a prisoner.

“Hey, next time you’re in town. You know where to find me? Just find the scent of dog treats and wasted cash.” He seemed to enjoy my corny, cynical sense of humor which often didn’t go over well with many people. Even though I stood my ground with every fiber of my being, he looked like a lost puppy not wanting to leave. Which I guess was fitting, considering I worked in a pet store.

“Okay,” he backed away defeated. “It was nice meeting you, Agatha?”

“Agatha?”

“Yeah, you still haven’t told me your name, so I will assume you are a lady of mystery.” He turned to walk away.

“Maeve!” I yelled before he could get any further away. He stopped, turned, and gave me another one of those killer smiles.

“I’m Maeve. Maeve Wicklow.”

“Beautiful.” He waved one more time then continued further into the darkness of closing time.

I continued with my end of the night duties – cleaning, straightening, counting the register. But then I added cursing myself out to the list that night.

“Who are you kidding, Wicklow? You’re never going to see him again. He’s probably hitting on some silky-haired, big-titted blonde at a party right now.”

I really didn’t believe the last part, but it made me feel somewhat better. I strolled out into the parking lot exhausted, not from work, but from lament thicker than the dank New Jersey air.

“Maaaaeve!” bellowed an unfamiliar voice as I fished for my keys in the outside pocket of my backpack.

The voice came from a big bus, lit up by the lamppost it was parked under. Moments later, there he was, running towards me before I could even think about putting my key into the door of my mother’s tattered old LeSabre.

The Boys and the Boardwalk

“Dude, all that’s besides the point. You had a cool chick in the palm of your hand and you just walked away like a damn fool. Man, haven’t I taught you not to be a spazz with the ladies!”

“Quinn, it’s not like you’ve been racking up points with females, ya airhead,” Kyler threw a piece of popcorn at my chucklehead of a best friend, which Quinn effortlessly caught in his mouth.

“Hey, nothing could be worse than his layups,” I loved teasing him about his inability to close the deal on the court..and in other areas. He liked pretending to be the James Bond of the group, always getting the girl in the end.

“Ha ha, smart ass,” Quinn flipped me off. “Look, all I’m saying is, you could have been more convincing if you think she is what you say she is,” Quinn washed down the popcorn by guzzling a Coca Colas then crushing the can.

“Yeah, how are we going to know for sure if you never see her again, Cay D.” Young Rian, sitting at our “kitchen” table with his school books open, was the only one in the group I allowed to use that nickname.

“Don’t worry about it, Ree. She’s probably not it. Cayden has had this feeling many times before,” Donavan, in his signature bass voice, tried to shut down Rian’s hopes.

“Don, I know you would be the last to agree. But I’m telling you, if you saw this girl’s drawings, even you would be floored. She’s got to be it.”

“Dude, we’ve been all over the country, all over the world. If you, or any one of us, haven’t found her by now, we never will.” Donavan patted me on the back before hopping up onto one of the bunks towards the back of the bus.

I leaned up against the counter with the tiny sink and one-burner stove that was supposed to be our kitchen. With my arms crossed and my head down, I continued to listen to my brothers’ admonishments for walking away from the girl.

“Hey, come on, bro. Don’t listen to these clowns. There’s only so much you can do, aside from harpooning the chick in the head and dragging her out here, which is highly discouraged of course. Don’t think that’s going to get you laid,” Kyler playfully rustled my hair, which he knew I hated with a passion, so I swatted his hand away.

“Thanks, little bro. I can always count on you to put things in perspective in a wildly inappropriate manner.”

“Spare me, the way you talked about her, don’t tell me you didn’t want to bang her brains out.”

“It’s not like that Kyler. I’m interested in this girl for much more important reasons, in case you weren’t paying attention.”

“Whatever, man,” he smirked.

“Love is not lust. The two are poles apart. Love liberates while lust binds. Narayanananda Swami.”

“Thanks Gus, always a big help,” Quinn teased.

Gus, our faithful bus driver, was a man of few words, but he had floppy disks full of quotes in his brain, and he would chime in with one at any given moment. He always found one relevant to the situation, and to me, he was one of the wisest men I knew. Admittedly, I had to stop and think about what Kyler said. Yes, I was blown away by Maeve’s abilities, and it was refreshing to meet someone who didn’t want to throw her panties at me. But I had to admit she was pretty cute. Ah, hell with it. She was beautiful. In a Velma from Scooby Doo kind of way if that makes any sense. But you could see her eyes through her glasses, cat-like and penetrating. She would have probably looked gorgeous with her hair down. Big breasts too, I laughed to myself, hoping the guys didn’t notice the redness in my face caused by visions of her amazing rack. I liked to think of myself as the level headed one, but I was still human. And I had all the time in the world to be human.

“Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall. Confucius.”

Gus leaned forward over the steering wheel and peered out the windshield. I moved up by him to see what he was looking at so intently. There she was. The poor lighting didn’t help, but I knew it was her walk.

“Hey, Quinn, Kyler, come here!” Rian also jumped up.

“What is it, Cayden,” complained Quinn. “I just poured a bowl of Lucky Charms. I don’t want them to get soggy!”

“That’s her.”

“Her who?”

“The girl. Maeve!”

“Oh shit!” Quinn laughed maniacally then opened the bus door.

“What the hell are you doing?”

“Maaaeve!” he bellowed out the door instead of answering me.

“Dude, come on!”

“Okay, I got her attention. It’s all you now, brother.” Quinn waved for me to get off the bus. Once on the ground, I saw her still standing there by her car, probably confused or freaked out.

“Book er, Danno,” he punched my shoulder.

“I swear I’m having Gus drop you off at a funny farm one day.”

“Whatever, get going. Ask her if she wants to go to the boardwalk with us.”

“Since when are we going to the boardwalk?”

“Since now.”

I took a deep breath and ran towards her. I saw her looking for her keys in her bag, so I picked up the pace. Once I got close enough for her to see it was me, she stopped her desperate search.

“Hi.”

“Hello again, Maeve.”

“You are stalking me, aren’t you?” she joked.

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